BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Charles Manx is a serial killer who abducts children and takes them in his Rolls-Royce Wraith to Christmasland, a nightmarish place that exists only in his imagination. Victoria McQueen uses her imagination to find lost things, and is the only person who can stop the madman.
PROS: Creepy, entertaining story with well-rounded characters.
CONS: Final, extended action sequence feels a little like overkill at times.
BOTTOM LINE: After two great novels, Joe Hill delivers his best.
Joe Hill just keeps getting better. With his first two novels, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, he established himself as a major player in the scary fiction game. With his latest, NOS4A2, he establishes himself as a master storyteller.
But it’s much more than a scarefest. While it delivers more chills than a drafty dungeon on a winter’s night, it will also quicken your heart with its action scenes and rivet you with its characters.
Chief among them is Victoria McQueen, a.k.a. The Brat. Vic has an uncanny ability for finding lost things: a bracelet, a photograph. She only needs to concentrate on the item, take a ride on her Raleigh Tuff Burner and cross the Shorter Way bridge, which always leads her to the missing object. Once she travels back, the bridge disappears, until she needs it again. But — as often happens with magic — it comes at a price, and we follow Vic’s transformation from sweet, innocent little girl to broken-down, screwed-up adult.
Charles Manx has an uncanny ability too. He’s a serial killer who takes children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith (with a license plate reading NOS4A2) and takes them to Christmasland, a nightmarish realm that, despite its name, is about as merry as the ninth circle of hell. Manx has a henchman named Bing Partridge, a gas-mask-wearing loser who is even creepier than his master.
Victoria, Charles, and Bing come crashing together as you would expect, and the last third of the book feels like a runaway roller-coaster ride through the dark side of the imagination.
NOS4A2 is a relentlessly entertaining exploration of dark fantasies, serial killers, and heroes that you will devour in 100- and 200-page gulps. You will lose sleep. You will need eye drops. You will think about it long after you close the book.
With his third novel, Joe Hill has created a classic. Imagine what he’ll do for his fourth.