(2013) Joe Hill, Gollancz, £18.99, hrdbk, 692pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13067-8
A girl called Victoria McQueen has the ability when she rides her bike through a bridge to come out at the place where she can find missing things. She escapes Charlie Manx who takes children away to a place called Christmasland where they never grow up and lose their humanity. Manx sees what he does as a way of making sure that the children retain their innocence which makes it even more disturbing. Manx’s power is linked to 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the number plate NOS4R2. But when that car is restored, Manx is revived to seek out McQueen for revenge, by taking her son to Christmasland.
Joe Hill has said that he believes that effective horror is about the juxtaposition of strange things. He achieves this staggeringly well, by turning the imagery of Christmas that is pared out every year into something sinister. Hill has said that he was inspired by Pleasure Island in Pinocchio and Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show from Something Wicked this way Comes. Another influence might be Mr Hood's Holiday House from The Thief of Always. It also manages to provide a new variation on the vampire myth as referenced in the number plate title and an aside to Dracula in the text.
NOS4R2 is an example of how to build up a tightly paced good horror novel. It creates engaging well-drawn characters, established the locations then have a storyline that can connect them all by bringing in a threat. This does not have to be something that threatens the world, just that of the characters.
While this may not be as conceptually ambitious as Hill's earlier work Horns, it is great, scary novel that keeps up the pace. Be sure to read to the very last page of the book. And do not give it to anybody as a present for Christmas unless you want to spoil the holiday for them.
See also Ian's review of Horns.
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