NOS4A2 by Joe Hill © 2013, William Morrow
Serial killer, Charlie Manx, has finally died. He spent his final years in prison thanks to his last child victim, Vic McQueen, who escaped Charlie’s clutches and exposed his crimes.
Vic is a messed up girl who imagines a magic covered bridge from her childhood allowed her to travel long distances by merely riding over the bridge on her trusty bike. She imagines the bridge was her route to Charlie Manx, but she doesn’t tell anyone because that’s—well—crazy. Vic spends much of her adult life trying to rid herself of crazy notions like the magic bridge and the zombie child victims of Charlie Manx who keep calling her on the phone.
But is Charlie Manx really dead? The man who owned Manx’s trusty Rolls Royce disappears, along with the car, and Manx’s body is stolen from the morgue by another serial killer who idolizes Manx and thinks he will come back to life. Manx does, in fact (maybe) resurrect, and the first thing he wants to do is seek revenge on Vic. Thus, Vic is drawn back into the world she thought was a product of mental illness and she has to battle Manx all over again, this time with very high stakes.
That’s the basic plot. There’s a lot more to the story. Manx is a sort of vampire, not a blood drinker, but a person who can rejuvenate himself by siphoning the life energy out of children. This turns his child victims into vicious, soulless zombies, dozens of whom populate Manx’s home turf, Christmasland, where it’s Christmas (Tim Burton style) every day. Manx and Vic are people who can access a parallel universe where ideas are as substantial as reality. Christmasland is Manx’s idea of a wonderful place. The magic bridge is Vic’s idea for finding things she needs in a hurry. Parallel universe people need a medium to access the idea realm. Charlie Manx’s medium is the Rolls Royce. Vic’s is a two-wheeler, first her trusty bike, later a motorcycle.
A weird and pretty cool world Hill has created here, and despite the weirdness he populates it with characters who seem like real people—flawed folks doing the best they can, not 100% good or 100% bad—even Charlie Manx! Now Manx is definitely the bad guy. You want Vic to defeat him. Yet, you can see he genuinely believes his victims are better off in Christmasland. You even wonder early on if Christmasland is a bad place. But most importantly, the hero, Vic, is a likeable character you hope will get her head around the fact that she’s not crazy and take it to Manx, which she eventually does. Secondary characters—Vic’s boyfriend, Vic’s child, and one of Vic’s fellow universe trippers are all interestingly eccentric, yet normal humans easy to emotionally attach to. A lot going on with a lot of folks, and Hill keeps it enjoyable throughout nearly all of a staggering 690 pages.
NOS4A2 wasn’t 100% good. A part that involved the FBI pursuing Vic at the same time she’s pursuing and being pursued by Manx was a contrived extra layer of conflict that didn’t really help the story. And the story unfortunately ended with a chase scene and bombs going off, which was completely out of sync with what, up to that point, had been a more interesting battle of warped wits.
So, weird cool premise, emotionally engaging cast of characters, really fun read until a clunker ending. Hey, that’s a Stephen King book! The ending didn’t ruin it, though. It’s still a very good book and joins Hill’s Horns on my “permanent” shelf.