BOOK REVIEW: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Hodder & Stoughton
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell
Whoever is born here, is doomed to stay until death. Whoever comes to stay, never leaves.
Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth-century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Blind and silenced, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s beds for nights on end. So accustomed to her have the townsfolk become that they often forget she’s there. Or what a threat she poses. Because if the stitches are ever cut open, the story goes, the whole town will die.
The pale TV light flickered on the metal chains around the blind woman’s body – or at least on the links that weren’t rusted. Beneath the dishcloth, the dead flesh at the open corner of her mouth twitched, barely visible. It pulled on the jagged black stitches that sewed her mouth tight, except for that one loose stitch in the corner that stuck out like a bent piece of wire.
The people of Black Spring are doomed to stay attached to this town for as long as they live, and with that sentence comes the acceptance that Katherine van Wyler will be privy to their lives, watching from the shadows.
Except she can’t exactly watch, can she, what with her eyes being sewn shut.
And you’d better count your lucky stars that her whispering can’t be properly heard past the stitches in her lips, because bad things happen when people hear the voice of the Black Rock Witch.
The elders of Black Spring have used high-tech surveillance to quarantine the town. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break the strict regulations and go viral with the haunting.
Of course this isn’t going to end well, but they get points for optimism… Right?
Cautiously, Steve walked around to the living room via the hallway. The woman hadn’t budged. There she stood, right in front of the French doors with her face pressed against the glass, like something that had been put there as a macabre joke, to replace a floor lamp or a houseplant.
Elements of Hex were deliciously creepy, and the opening definitely suggested that it would be the type of story to keep readers up at night. And, I’ll be honest… there was a week or two there during and after reading where I would brace myself for sightings of Katherine whenever I turned on a light.
But beyond the creepy, lurking presence of someone long dead, someone who is the cause of many deaths within this town, is a story of small-town hysteria.
Small town hysteria was what saw Katherine executed for being a witch, and that same hysteria is going to prove just as hard for these modern-day townsfolk to deal with. There’s no denying that she has a power over them, that she’s the one stopping them from leaving and sending them eagerly reaching for the tools to end it all when they hear her voice.
But it’s so easy to attach extra weight to things and see signs that aren’t there… so easy to get caught up in the witch hunt.
The author shares in his acknowledgements that the ending of the story was changed from the original Dutch version. If you’ve read the original version, I’d love to have a chat with you about how it finished up!
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