F. Paul Wilson wrote The Touch in 1985, but a new edition has now been released. Being a new fan, I had to pick it up. I have no idea if this was the case when the book was originally written, but it is now part of Wilson's "Adversary Cycle," a series that also incorporates his "Repairman Jack" books. It will be interesting to see if events or characters in this book make reappearances in subsequent Jack books. Regardless, this book shows that Wilson definitely had the writing "touch," even back in 1985.
Dr. Alan Bulmer has been a family physician for over a dozen years. After a strange meeting with a seemingly homeless man in the hospital, Bulmer discovers that his touch has the power to heal people instantly, wiping out everything from viruses to cancer, though it only works at certain times of the day. As word of this power leaks out, only Sylvia Nash, a beautiful, rich, and enigmatic woman whose son Bulmer has been treating, stands by him. Bulmer struggles to adapt to his changing circumstances, as well as to understand how "the Touch" works, but he may not get the chance. Sylvia's Vietnamese assistant, Ba, knows what the "Dat-tay-vao" is, and that it carries a price that Bulmer is only beginning to pay.
As I was reading The Touch, I found my mind wandering at times, wondering what parts of the book Wilson had updated. Bulmer is involved in a Senate committee testimony about health care, and I originally marveled at how some of the exact same arguments were being made back in 1985 that are being made today. Then I noticed that Wilson had updated a lot of the references to make the novel take place currently (Iraq,
Harry Potter, etc.). I was finally able to set that aside, but one anachronism jumped out and made me stop and stare for a moment.
When the terminally ill senator reflects back to when he was first diagnosed with his disease, Wilson has the doctor smoking like a chimney while
administering the senator's tests. Either the senator has been sick for a very long time, or Wilson forgot to update that part.
However, when that's its only real fault, you know that a book is good. Wilson captures his characters brilliantly, both heroes and villains, making you want to continue to read about them. You actually have some sympathy for the senator and his circumstances until Wilson cuts off that sympathy by showing to what extent he will go to in order to get his cure. Bulmer, Nash, even Axelford (a sometimes boyfriend of Nash who is extremely skeptical of anything that requires "belief," including the Dat-tay-vao, until he can scientifically prove it), all of them spring off the page in full three dimensions.
I thought at first that the opening pace was extremely slow, but as I continued through, it became apparent that it is all important set-up - a lot of Bulmer's mindset as a physician during this time, his need to help people, his view that "hands-on" medicine is much better than the "take a number, prescribe a pill, see next patient" method of medicine. When Bulmer does get the Dat-tay-vao, his struggle to use it (or not use it, as his life starts to get worse) is even more poignant as a result.
Wilson's excellent prose manages to make even the medical terminology palatable, once they begin figuring out just how the Dat-tay-vao is affecting Bulmer. Even the rather slow beginning is due more to the pacing than the prose itself. Wilson's writing keeps you reading to find out about these characters (especially Ba, who I loved).
This edition of The Touch also has a new short story that fleshes out the story of how the Dat-tay-vao left Vietnam during the war and made its way to the northeastern United States. I believe this is a brand new story, and even in its brevity, Wilson captures everything beautifully.
Not having read the original book, I don't know if Wilson changed the ending at all to make it fit better with the "Adversary Cycle." Without being part of a series, it very much fits the "everything's finished…for now" conclusions that many authors go for. Whether it's been changed or not, the ending makes it obvious to me that at least one character is going to show up again. Yet the book itself does reach a conclusion; there is no "to be continued." I like that in a novel.
The Touch is another masterwork from F. Paul Wilson. Whether as a standalone novel or as part of the Cycle, it's definitely worth a read if you like a bit of medical horror in your reading diet.