If a twenty-first century Dr. Frankenstein, for the sake of novelty, was bent on creating a horror writer, he or she might combine the heart of Stephen King with the brain of John Ajvide Lindqvist for something fresh and distinctive. Since both authors come from countries of established genre writers, it could be fun to enliven the body with a more unusual geographic sensibility; such as Dutch. Wait! There’s no need to fantasize about such a creation. He exists, and his name is Thomas Olde Heuvelt. His bewitching novel HEX will draw comparisons to writings by well known literary figures in the horror field.
The community of Black Spring, New York has a population of roughly 3000. Those who dwell there live a contained existence. They are haunted by a 17th Century witch whose spectral presence is the focal point of their activities. Though enchained, and with eyes and lips sewn shut, Katherine van Wyler has the denizens of Black Spring walking on eggshells. A local control center known as HEX monitors her whereabouts with cameras, while also tracking the movements of “Outsiders;” people who don’t reside in the town.
Within this fragile framework, a few restless adolescent boys rebel against restrictions that they perceive as antiquated. They film a set-up situation that ridicules the witch. This allows the townspeople the respite of letting off some steam by laughing at their nemesis. Emboldened by the generally positive public reaction to their prank, the most alienated of the youths escalates the intensity of interactions with Katherine. As the populace fall victim to her retaliations, the tenuous status quo is shattered.
The narrative is riddled with nightmare inducing scenes. Avian enthusiasts will likely not be able to look at an owl or a peacock in the same way again. Katherine’s incoherent murmurings and her sudden shifts in proximity are positively bone-chilling. The author also poignantly plays upon the fear of losing what—or whom, one loves best: “As in so many fairy tales, the cruelest part is often overlooked: It’s not the depravity of the witch, but the mourning of the poor woodcutter over the loss of his children.”
HEX was originally published in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2013. When a deal to publish the English translation happened, Thomas Olde Heuvelt decided to dramatically revise the earlier book. He not only changed the setting from Holland to America, but also wrote completely new chapters which result in a different ending. The author claims to be happier with the altered English version. He certainly should be well pleased with it. HEX stuns in every sense of the word.