Sometimes you come across a story that’s so unique it sort of blows your mind a little. It’s not often it happens, though, because as we all know, there are only about seven basic plots – they’re all just re-told with different words, different names and different combinations.
Hex tells the story of Black Spring, a small town in North America haunted by a witch. Katherine van Wyler was killed by the residents of the town three hundred and fifty years previously… but came back.
Possessing unique powers that caused people to kill themselves, some residents stitched up her eyes and mouth, rendering her nearly harmless.
Yet still she wanders the streets of the town. The residents have become accustomed to her presence, and have mostly accepted her as part of their lives. Appearing in their dining rooms during dinner, they throw blankets over her and carry on with their meals.
There is one price they have to pay. Once the residents are in her grip they find themselves unable to leave Black Spring for any length of time. After some time, two or three weeks, they are irresistibly drawn to kill themselves.
The townsfolk must stay in Black Spring, but in order to protect anyone else from Katherine, they must protect her from the rest of the world.
The idea of a haunting is not new, but the idea of this town being so accustomed to her that she is almost like a pet was so intriguing. I can understand the sudden appearance of this woman in your house being so incredibly creepy, but I’m not sure I can understand ever getting used to it. It’s an unbelievable scenario, yet somehow Heuvelt makes it completely believable.
Obviously, things start to go wrong. A group of children are curious, they have phones, they make recordings, and it starts a chain of events that cannot be stopped.
Despite the obvious supernatural element, I’m not sure I would describe this book as horror. It’s tense and creepy, definitely, but it’s not initially gory.
This is a book about small town paranoia last seen (by me at least) in Stephen King’s Under the Dome – in that context, Hex is nothing new.
A small American town is cut off from the rest of the world – either physically or culturally – through some supernatural event, and their relationships become more and more strained, building to a dramatic climax.
The characters in Hex are real. The author has taken a real community and put something extraordinary in it. Too often, books like this are about the extraordinary, and the characters and society around it are moulded to fit it.
Katherine doesn’t fit in in Black Spring to the point that it becomes a fascinating point of contrast. We don’t ever see things from her point of view, but I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. This witch with stitched up eyes and lips felt real to me, entirely because the town felt real.
I was describing it to someone at work who said they didn’t read horror and I tried to explain why that didn’t matter. Katherine is the stimulus for the plot, the cause of tension between the characters, but the story isn’t actually about her.
It’s about mob mentality and the paranoia of human beings when things start to go wrong. A huge amount of Hex could be kept the same if Katherine the witch was substituted for Kevin the sex offender (not casting any aspersions on any Kevin’s out there). Who and what the antagonist is, doesn’t matter.
Except for the ending. Without giving too much away, it was a little confusing. Imagine a meteor hitting a shopping centre and trying to explain in ten pages or so everything that happened to every one of the thousands of people in the shopping centre.
The trouble is, I wanted to know what happened, but I also didn’t have a spare five months to read about it, and the writer knew that. So, it was condensed, and I felt in some cases it might have been worth not learning what happened to some characters in order to focus on some of the others.
Our main character, Steve Grant, didn’t witness everything that happened at the end, and despite the fact that the book moved viewpoints throughout, I would have preferred the end to stay with him. The emotional impact of the ending would have been far greater.
That’s not to say it wasn’t great, but I can’t really talk about it without spoiling it too much. Suffice to say that if and when the TV series currently being developed by Warner Brothers does go ahead, it will make an epic end of season cliffhanger.
A strangely believable setting with a strong cast of characters, this tale of small town paranoia is definitely worth a read when it gets released in hardback at the end of April.
It’s not revolutionary, but damn, I’m not sure I’ll ever get past that creepy witch.
Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt scores an impressive 4.3 out of 5
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