Saturday, April 5, 2014

Book Review - The Touch

The Touch – F Paul Wilson


I first started reading F. Paul Wilson as I heard a lot of good things about Repairman Jack. I was surprised therefore when I learnt that said character only appears once in Paul’s first six novels. The first novel was fantastic; the second featured Repairman Jack and was great but not as good. I was excited to read the third.

The Blurb:

After a dozen years of practicing medicine as a family physician, Dr. Alan Bulmer discovers one day that he can cure any illness with the mere touch of his hand. At first his scientific nature refuses to accept what is happening to him, but there is no rational explanation to be found. So Alan gives himself over to this mysterious power, reveling in the ability to cure the incurable, to give hope to the hopeless—for one hour each day.

Although he tries to hide his power, word inevitably leaks out, and soon Alan’s life begins to unravel. His marriage and his practice crumble. Only rich, beautiful, enigmatic Sylvia Nash stands by him. And standing with her is Ba, her Vietnamese gardener, who once witnessed a power such as Dr. Bulmer’s in his homeland, where it is called Dat-tay-vao. And the Dat-tay-vao always comes with a price.

Help arrives from an unexpected quarter—Senator James McCready offers the use of his family’s medical foundation to investigate Alan’s supposed power. If it truly exists, he will back Alan with the full weight of the Foundation’s international reputation. Feeling that he has reached bottom and that things can only get better, Alan accepts McCready’s offer. But he has only begun to pay.

I had no idea how diverse F. Paul Wilson is. “The Touch” continues his standalone novels loosely tied together under the umbrella of the “Adversary Cycle.” As the blurb indicates this is a story of a doctor who suddenly finds himself with the ability to heal people (Dat-Tay-Vao). However each miracle he performs has a consequence.

Alan Bulmer is a great character. Wilson portrays him as a good natured empathetic man and who chooses to care for the welfare of his patients above the need to hit quotas of patients seen by the end of the day. As a result the people he treats love and trust him and he is both scorned and resented by his peers.

Wilson captures the character perfectly. The reader automatically identifies with Alan and fully invests in the character and his good intentions. Whereas some weaker people would seek to take advantage of the gift of the Dat-tay-vao, Alan’s intentions are pure and he wishes to only do "good" with the power that he has obtained.

Sylvia Nash is great as the pure hearted woman that selfishly has adopted a disabled child. However, Wilson cleverly flips this persona on its head in how others perceive her. The majority of the characters see her as a rich, slapper. It is a nice twist on her character and makes for an interesting dynamic, especially as she flirts outrageously with Alan on every occasion which makes both sides of her character believable.

The other characters are also strong. Ba in particular is mysterious as the strong, silent driver of Sylvia’s and Axelford is suitably repugnant as the jealous on/off boyfriend of Sylvia.

The plot moves away from the horror elements of Wilson’s previous two books and becomes a medical drama/mystery. As such rather than a slow burn the pace is quite frantic. Wilson inserts a plethora of medical terminology into his prose but it never feels out of place or difficult to follow.

The Dat-tay-vao is a really intriguing plot device. The reader is aware that Alan’s gift is far from the wonderful opportunity he sees it as, but they are not aware of the consequences of abusing the gift too much. Wilson expertly reveals the mystery of the Dat-tay-vao piece by piece without the mystery becoming frustrating.

Inevitably news of Alan’s miracles gathers momentum and several sinister organisations begin to take an interest. These leads to exciting tense scenes towards the end of the novel which sees several characters personalities develop in interesting ways.

If there is a criticism, it is that the main characters always seem to have someone that is need of the miracle cure. I am not talking close friend or a neighbour but always either themselves or a very close family member. I get why this is necessary in order to keep the plot hurtling forwards but sometimes it does get a little too unrealistic.

The ending is great. The novel manages to project just enough chaos without unravelling or losing its focus. So often in novels the supernatural elements are introduced and by the end of the novel someone finds a way to change the properties of the said element, for example the prophecy which is set in stone is suddenly changed. The Dat-tay-vao retains its mystery but also stays true to the rules Wilson sets out for it whilst still providing a suitable conclusion. At the end of the day this is all you can ask for.

Overall, F Paul Wilson has written another winner with “the Touch.” I urge you to go out and try his work if you haven’t already done so. It is worth noting that this version also contains a short story on the origin of how the Dat-tay-vao came to America. This also works well and adds to the overall experience of the novel.

My rating: 9.1