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I don’t like witch stories, but I loved HEX. I almost passed it up, thinking it would be a one-trick pony, but decided at the last minute to give it a shot. Then I wondered if I had made a mistake. The opening of the book seemed to be horror light, more focused on the whimsy than otherwise, though it was extremely well-written.

It was, as it turns out, author Thomas Olde Heuvelt getting his ducks in a row, giving answers to questions that any reasonable reader would ask, before turning out the lights in the room and letting the rats loose, or worse. I was wrong about the pony thing, too. HEX is a thoroughbred that races, dances and sings well and frighteningly. Think of it this way: Reading this book is like going into an amusement park and entering what appears to be an entertaining but fairly pedestrian fun house, only to discover that you’re on the fastest, steepest roller coaster you’ve ever ridden...and as you look ahead, you see that the tracks end in mid-air.

"Heuvelt thinks of everything, and he has an answer for you, no matter what your question is, weaving it flawlessly into the narrative even as he gives a nod and a wink in tribute to a contemporary horror classic or two."

Yes, HEX really is that good. It’s a terrifying read that gave me nightmares and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Heuvelt’s work is new to the United States, other than for a shorter e-work. (Let me gush again for a minute here, and then I promise to get back on track.) HEX was originally published in his native Holland in 2013. What we’re getting is what Heuvelt describes in his Acknowledgements as “Hex 2.0.” He went through the book and gave it an American setting, and added a whole new ending for American audiences. I admire work ethic, maybe more than anything else, and for that reason alone I would recommend this novel. He also gives strong credit, as he should, to translator Nancy Forest-Flier, by whose effort and good grace it is available to American audiences. There is more, though, so much more.

So what is HEX about? I’m so glad you asked. It’s about a small Hudson Valley village with the foreboding name of Black Spring. The town is haunted by the spirit of Katherine van Wyler, who was executed as a witch in the 17th century. When I say “haunted,” I mean HAUNTED. She wanders through the streets following a somewhat regular pattern, but also shows up in the homes --- closets, kitchens and bedrooms --- of the town’s residents on a regular basis. This has been going on for hundreds of years, and the knowledge that one must never disturb her has been paid deeply and with bitter coin. There is also a bit of a “Hotel California” thing going on, in the sense that if you establish residency in Black Spring, you can never leave, at least for more than a day.

What occurs in HEX, which is set in 2008, is that a few of the town’s teenagers are chafing at the isolation and, to varying degrees, decide to do something about it, using social media and, in some cases, direct action against Katherine. That is not a good idea, even as one of the looser cannons of the group seeks to up the ante. All he does, however, is bring a knife to a fight where his supernatural adversary has the benefits of otherworldliness and a couple of hundred years of experience in her rotting, animated corpse. One thing leads to another, with results that are immediately bad and become worse than disastrous.

Does all of this sound preposterous? Sure. While reading, I thought Hey, they couldn’t stay isolated because of this, or that, or the other. However, Heuvelt thinks of everything, and he has an answer for you, no matter what your question is, weaving it flawlessly into the narrative even as he gives a nod and a wink in tribute to a contemporary horror classic or two. You won’t want the book to end, but not because it’s too short. Once he starts unleashing the consequences, you just know this bad boy is going to end badly. But what a marvel Heuvelt is. He already has a couple of short fiction pieces that are available in English. Can his four other novels be far behind? I hope not. For now, though, I have HEX to read over and over again.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on April 29, 2016

by Thomas Olde Heuvelt