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Black Springs is a town under a curse, the curse of Katherine, a woman condemned as a witch by the town, many hundreds of years ago. The curse and Katherine are so accepted that the town is officially isolated by the American government and had been since the time of the civil war. During the day Katherine appears in various parts of the town and the townsfolk have become experts in hiding her from the outside world. Those born in Black Springs can never leave, those that try die. Those that move to Black Springs stay and no one, absolutely no one, touches Katherine…
Hex (2016. 404 Pages) is an incredibly effective horror novel from Dutch writer Thomas Olde Heuvelt. The story has been reworked from the original by moving the action from Holland to a town on the Hudson. The changes were deliberate so as to open the story up to a greater readership and in truth are so well executed that you would never be able to spot most of the changes. The novel was translated by Nancy Forest-Flier.
I’m guessing that Heuvelt has been heavily influenced by Stephen King as they share a similar character heavy approach to storytelling. When we first step into Black Springs, there is almost something comic about how the town reacts to Katherine; thinking up elaborate ways of concealing the witch from any outsiders, often in comic and surreal ways. This is tinged with an element of both caution and fear, like their fathers before them no one in the town wants to make Katherine stop and notice. The times that this has happened previously either a portion or the whole town died.
Whist the adults are all for keeping the status quo going, feeling it is the only way to ensure their children’s survival, not all of the town's youth feel the same way. Tyler and his friends are modern children with technological savvy, so whilst they do not disbelieve that Katherine is a supernatural creature, they also do not understand why she cannot be opened up to the world and studied, like she was some form of National Geographic documentary. It does not take a brain surgeon to work out that in a horror novel; this is not only a foolish idea, but one which will have terminal consequences.
The story is told from a number of character perspectives, which allows the author to build up the tension. As a reader you get to understand better than some of the characters that Katherine poses a real threat to everybody in town, which is presumably why, even after she was dead and turned into a solid spectre, that a previous generation had felt it prudent to sew her eyes and mouth shut. The town's fate literally hangs on a thread. As the youth of the town start to experiment on Katherine the reader is left with a great desire to shout at the book.
Characterisation and development is all top notch, Heuvelt is careful to make all of his characters well rounded, including the villain of the piece, which is not necessarily Katherine.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and have no hesitation recommending Hex as an excellent horror novel with many of its own original ideas.