The philosophical thriller: A review of Simon Heath’s Doppelganger

Reviewed in this essay: Doppelganger, by Simon Heath. Self-published, 2012.

Doppelganger will be of special interest to Toronto readers. Although our city is never expressly mentioned named as the setting, locals will recognize several distinctive details. Unmistakeable King Street office blocks, Rosedale doctor’s offices, packed Tim Horton’s and Timothy’s coffee shops, summertime escapes to the Muskokas. These familiar elements make the book that much more personal, the images that much more vivid.

This first novel from long-time playwright Simon Heath straddles genres enigmatically. There is a definite pang of science fiction to Doppelganger – the bleak and inhuman settings of unfinished office towers, hi-tech sleep clinics and city streets at night have a post-apocalyptic sheen to them – but the novel is far from a simple potboiler. It is a vessel for meditations of the (often bizarre) interconnectedness of humanity, what it means to share a memory, and the ways in which we experience time.

The story kicks off as Frank, a pompous corporate heavyweight, plummets to his death from a 40th floor office during a management pep talk gone horribly awry. The rest of novel follows the lives of Frank’s mistress, Marcia, and his childhood friend/workplace protégé/abused lackey, George, as they cope with, and find a shared connection through, Frank’s death. The story’s real intrigue, of which only the reader is aware: minutes before his death, Frank saw his exact double walking down the street.

The first half of the novel is a slow boil, as Heath takes great pains to communicate sometimes insignificant detail about the two main characters, their lives, their shared and respective surroundings. But all that work digging into George and Marcia’s memories, fears, and idiosyncrasies ultimately pays off once the story takes a turn towards thriller territory. The rich character development makes everything that happens to the pair of protagonists that much more meaningful.

Doppelganger’s last 50 pages are likely to be read very quickly and all in one sitting, as character study takes a back seat to suspense. Heath’s 20 years of experience as a playwright are put to good use as he advances the story through fast action and bountiful dialogue. Even when the narrative’s pace gets frenetic, though, Heath manages to infuse it with enough philosophical depth to engage those readers typically more attuned to heady novels of ideas.

Doppelganger is available through