NOS4R2 by Joe Hill

(9.5/10) A totally gripping and satisfying read, expertly constructed and brilliantly executed.

Book of the Year 2013 (see all)

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn't tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.

Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4R2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie's twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.

And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble... and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.

That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie's unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.

But Charlie Manx hasn't stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won't slow down until he's taken his revenge. He's after something very special —something Vic can never replace.

As a life-and-death battle of wills builds — her magic pitted against his — Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all... or die trying...”

This novel very cleverly plays on our fears, making the mundane and familiar anything but that. Even a phone ringing can send a chill down your side. The whole concept of Christmas is also given a terrifying twist, Christmasland, home to Charles Manx, is a place of nightmares.

Manx is vampiric, ghoulish and repulsive. If he is Dracula, then his creepy side-kick Bing, is Renfield. A skeletal smartly dressed gentleman, accompanied by a man wearing a boiler-suit and gas mask, are a particularly repellent pair.

Hill sets this all up expertly, and it is clear that a strong protagonist will be needed to go up against Manx and Bing. In Vic McQueen, we have a flawed, rebellious, troubled and creative heroine. She is believable as a person and I had no trouble investing in her. Because of her flaws and her dysfunction, she is far more endearing and interesting. You really care about Vic and her son, who enjoy a difficult but loving relationship.

A horror novel that tackles mental illness, depression, addiction and loss is very much a human one. This is not your basic good versus evil tale; rather it is about unconditional love overcoming adversity.

NOS4R2 reads like a thriller at times, it is a totally gripping and satisfying read, expertly constructed and brilliantly executed. This one is a triumph.

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