Hex, by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (translated by Nancy Forest-Flier), is nightmare inducing in the best possible way. Horror is a genre that I have come to late. When I read a book as impressive as this I am eager to discover more.
The small town of Black Spring, situated in the picturesque Hudson Valley close to the United States Military Academy at West Point, has a secret that it hides in plain sight. The town signs welcome visitors to the home of the Black Rock Witch. What they don’t admit, to anyone, ever, on pain of death, is that she actually exists.
In 1664, Katherine van Wyler was sentenced to death for witchcraft. Back then Black Spring was a thriving trapper’s colony populated by Dutch settlers. Katherine was accused of many unnatural practices and was tortured until she confessed to her crimes. Since her death she has haunted the town, walking the streets and appearing within the residents homes. To prevent her casting evil spells former townsfolk sewed up her eyes and mouth, chaining her arms to her body that she may be unable to remove the stitches. There is a deep seated fear of what could happen should her eyes ever be opened.
The residents accept the presence of this supernatural being because they have no choice. Once they have lived in the town they are unable to leave. Those who try, die.
None resent the limitations this imposes on their lives and prospects more than the town’s teenagers whose access to the outside world is strictly monitored and curtailed. When a group of them decide that they will break the rules and post details of the witch on line they set in motion a terrifying series of events. Katherine has been provoked and the outcome is worse than any of these supposedly good, American citizens could have imagined possible.
The sinister undercurrents of the tale emanate from each page yet it is more than a simple horror story. It offers insights into the power struggles within a closed community, the bullying, mob mentality that simmers just below the surface of those who live in fear. The atmosphere evoked is one of darkness and brooding resentment. Add to this a dose of teenage rebellion and the explosive, terrifying denouement is inevitable in all but the detail. That this still had the power to shock to the core shows the strength of the writing.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book but recommend approaching with caution. It is classed as horror for a reason.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hodder and Stoughton.