Author: Joe Hill with illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez, 2013.
Genre: Horror. Vampires.
Other Details: Hardback. 692 pages.
Victoria McQueen discovers that she has a talent for finding lost things when the Raleigh Tuff Burner bike that she receives for her 8th birthday opens the way across a decaying covered bridge that transports her wherever she needs to go to find the object or answer she is seeking. Elsewhere, Charles Talent Manx likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS-4R2 vanity plate. The car allows him to drive away from the everyday world onto the hidden roads where he transports the children to a sinister amusement park called “Christmasland” where they shall remain as children forever.
Vic McQueen, now aged 17, has a huge fight with her mother and in anger sets out on her bike to 'look for trouble'. Using the bridge she finds herself at Charlie Manx's Sleigh House where she finds the trouble she is looking for. A lifetime later, Vic is the only kid to ever escape from Manx and now is an adult with a child of her own. Yet Manx has never forgotten Victoria McQueen and now he is on the road again seeking a terrible revenge.
The original title in the US was NOS4A2, though it was published under the slightly different NOS-4R2 in the UK. I have to admit that I didn't get the title until Manx explains the meaning of his vanity plate to his minion Bing Partridge. This is very much an old-fashioned horror tale with a spine-chilling vampire at its heart who is neither glamorous nor romantic and more in the vein of Count Orlok from the 1922 German silent film Nosferatu as the novel's title suggests. I found Vic McQueen a brilliant character, somewhat Sarah Conner-like in her passionate desire to protect her child in the face of a formidable enemy as well as being hardened by her own experiences.
I do find a fair amount of similarity between Joe Hill and his Dad in their mutual ability to transform the everyday into the horrific and to create very down-to-earth working class characters. Indeed, given the number of tips of the hat in King's direction in NOS-4R2, there were a couple of times when I had to remind myself that this was Hill and not King. In an interview Hill gave about the novel he called this "my senior thesis statement on horror fiction," and also said that given his father's place in modern horror fiction that he had decided not to duck from this association and so playfully 'sampled' from King's works.
Hill has obviously taken inspiration from those films where there is an extra scene that takes place after the credits. So in this case it is well worth reading to the very last page for an embedded epilogue. He also playfully suggests that Apple's iPhone app is capable of tracking people beyond everyday reality.
This really was one of the most disturbing novels I have read for years; drawing on childhood fears and the tropes of classic and modern horror fiction. There is also a dark humour evident within the novel, often expressed by Charles Manx's in the form of quips and observations. I liked the line illustrations as they added a flourish to the story.