NOS482 – Joe Hill
For those that regularly follow this blog you will know that I am high on Joe Hill’s work at the moment. I was attracted to the cover of his latest novel even though I was very slow in picking up the significance of the number plate. The blurb only heightened my anticipation.
Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it's across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing - and terrifying - playground of amusements he calls "Christmasland."
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble - and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx's unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He's on the road again and he's picked up a new passenger: Vic's own son.
Inevitably Joe Hill’s early career will always draw comparisons to his father’s (Stephen King’s) work. Normally I hate to draw such a comparison and think that Joe Hill is definitely emerging from his father’s long shadow. However, with “NOS482” more than any other work I’ve read of his (“Heart Shaped Box” and the first two collections of “Locke and Key”) Joe Hill emulates everything I love about Stephen King.
The book focuses on Victoria. A young girl with the ability to find lost things at will. All she has to do is cross an old bridge on her bicycle and she magically finds herself where the item she wants is located. As a child this gift is innocent, however, each time Vicky takes a trip across the bridge, the ride takes its toll (excuse the pun). The lines between reality and craziness become blurred. The result is that Vicky spends most of her life confused about her memories and paying the price.
She is an excellent character. Although she loathes herself, as a reader you have the privileged information that what she sees is real and therefore you are always rooting for her. You sympathize with how she is and stand by those that support her.
Joe Hill ensures every character has depth. There is not one character that does not possess a flaw of some kind. From Vick’s lovable husband Lou, to her parents and to the one that reaches out to her most Maggie Smith (who has her own special ability).
It is Vicky’s son Wayne that garners the most sympathy though. With a childhood such as his, the poor boy does not stand a chance. Joe Hill does a terrific job of capturing his resilience and innocence.
The stand out point of view characters though are Charles Manx and Bing. It is the fashion at the moment for all characters to be portrayed in shades of grey. No one finds an out and out villain realistic anymore. Whilst this might be true, I miss the stories where someone is evil for the sake of being evil. Charles Manx fits that bill perfectly.
He abducts children and takes them to Christmas land. Although, he has his own warped selection process that he uses to justify his actions, it does not detract from the fact he is a sadistic and malevolent being. Joe Hill does a terrific job in describing Manx as the sinister bastard that he is. Every time he speaks you sense the saccharine venom that rolls off his tongue. The way he talks of Christmas land made my toes curl.
Joe Hill takes the one holiday that everyone loves and somehow transforms it into something evil. Even the Christmas songs suddenly have a creepy edge.
When we finally see Christmas land it does not disappoint. Horrific is an understatement. I don’t think I will ever look at a Christmas tree in the same way again.
Mr Bing is a despicable character but for different reasons. He worships Charlie Manx and his devotion and desperation to get to Christmas land are a different kind of scary. For someone who starts off fairly normal his descent into darkness is harrowing.
The novel sags ever so slightly in the middle. There were times where I wondered how the story could actually continue for another three hundred pages. I should not have worried as the pace picks up and hurtles towards the conclusion.
It is an ending worth waiting for too. The inevitable showdown meets all expectations. I like dark endings but even I longed for a happy ending as I approached the last fifty pages.
Joe Hill continues to impress. I have not read Horns but this is a major step up from “the heart shaped box.”
My rating: 9.2