Hodder, out now
One of the privileges of running Sci-Fi Bulletin is getting to know when new books in the field are being released, and often getting advance copies. There’s certain authors – currently, in alphabetical order comprising John Connolly, Christopher Golden, Joe Hill, Stephen King, Sarah Pinborough – whose work I don’t even consider offering to others to review, because I know that in their hands I’m going to be drawn into a new story that will engage me totally. To that list I’m now adding Thomas Olde Heuvelt, because if he can scare the living daylights out of me to the extent that he has with his novel Hex, (perhaps masochistically!) I want more. Now.
Black Spring is your average New York town – at least on the surface – but it keeps a secret hidden from the world. It’s haunted by Katherine, the corporeal ghost of a woman from the 17th century, and every trick of the 21st is used to keep tabs on her. Trouble is, once you know about her, you can’t leave, because she’s got her hooks in you – stray too far and all you want to do is kill yourself. Of course, everyone chafes at the restrictions, particularly the teenagers who maybe for once have it right when they moan that “it’s not fair”. But everyone in Black Spring remembers what happens when Katherine is interfered with, and strict protocols are in place to ensure that nothing similar will ever happen again. Except, of course, you can’t legislate for every piece of human nature – and in 2012, everything goes wrong. And is it all the fault of the “witch”?
I’m not going to spoil the novel: the descent of Black Spring takes many unexpected turns, and concludes with yet a further twist. It has the blackness and bleakness of King’s Pet Sematary, and the mix of the supernatural and the everyday that Connolly blends in the Charlie Parker novels. If you threw the concept of Wayward Pines at one of the authors mentioned above, you might well get something on the lines of Hex, but Heuvelt gives it a distinctive voice, mixing tenses and viewpoints in such a way that the reader becomes part of the story – and complicit in its darkness. There haven’t been many novels over the years that I’ve not wanted to read just before bedtime – but Hex is quite definitely one of them, and in some ways that’s the best recommendation I can give it.
Verdict: A truly scary and horrifying novel. 10/10