I just finished raving to my mum about this book by saying it was one of the most amazing books I have ever read. This may be the post-terror high speaking, but on reflection I can safely say it is definitely one of the most unique books I have ever read. And I have read A LOT of Stephen King.
This book starts on such a normal note that for an entire chapter I was waiting with baited breath, body tense, for some scary shit to happen before I realised that the scary shit was already happening. The reader is just thrust right into the normal going-ons of the town of Black Spring on such a note of levity that the “Black Rock Witch” described in the blurb was unidentifiable as something scary until we were allowed some backstory.
My favourite thing about Stephen King, and it seems Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s favourite thing too (he cites King as a huge influence), is the slow build-up. Nothing is scary if you open a book and the first thing you read is ghost-related. From then on that is the norm for you and nothing can become horrifying from it. It is the little normalities that are later proven to be abnormal that stick with you in reality. Heuvelt knows this and uses it to his advantage. In fact, if anything he talks down to the reader and does not underestimate the readers’ ability to figure the plot out for themselves. The witch is not referred to as anything but her given name (not saying it so I don’t spoil it) for so long it is only once I realised what she was, and what her history was that the horror started to creep in.
It is a testament to Heuvelt’s writing as well. The haunted East-coast town, with shifty side characters, and ne’er do well youngsters has been done to death (excuse the pun). However, I was genuinely horrified by some of what I read (that’s a good thing) and the characters were never ordinary. Cursed to live a doomed existence, the entire town is rotting from the core and it’s like watching a train crash as the reader follows their storylines to their conclusion. This is a pretty hefty book (404 pages) and I read it in one day, I literally could not put this book down. Except for the break I took to watch a couple of cartoons to lighten my mood.
It’s hard to comment without spoiling the plot, but I particularly loved the use of modern technology alongside the trope of “ancient horror”. There is something about the idea of still being tormented by evil when even your smartphone cannot save you that adds a particular thrill to the book. The teenagers who are so set on escaping from their doomed existence use their phones to capture images and sounds that should never be captured on film, even talking about such movies as The Blair Witch Project along the way. But this book is so much better because we as the reader see inside the heads of these characters. They are not just empty figures on a screen (can you tell I wasn’t a huge fan of that movie).
There is a thin line, I think, when it comes to writing horror, between disgusting and tasteful. Heuvelt most definitely toes that line, but does it with such intriguing and captivating prose that it never becomes overwhelming. The conclusion to the story is unexpected, horrendous, and totally and completely fitting to the story. Even though the book is not a happy one, I couldn’t help but smile as I read the the last paragraph and closed the book because it was just so goddamn good.