NOS-4R2 by Joe Hill

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NOS-4R2 by Joe Hill

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Category: Horror
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: The son of Stephen King does exactly what you mnight expect the son of Stephen King to do. He writes a very disturbing story with characters so well drawn and built up that you start to care before he starts to scare.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 704 Date: May 2013
Publisher: Gollancz
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0575130678

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I don't know if writing talent is genetic or not, but the quality of Even by Andrew Grant, the brother of Lee Child, suggests it could be. Further evidence can be found within the pages of NOS-4R2, whose author, Joe Hill, goes by the full name of Joseph Hillstrom King and is the son of authors Tabitha and Stephen King. He certainly seems to look a lot like his father, from the pictures I've seen, so it will be interesting to see if he writes like his father as well.

Vic McQueen has a talent for finding things. Her little Raleigh bicycle can take her over a seemingly demolished bridge near her home and takes her to places where lost items have come out. Over the years, she has built up stories in her head as to how she found these items, but as she gets older, she becomes more and more unable to find herself. One day, she takes her bridge to a place where she finds Charles Talent Manx III, a man who has a similar talent, but uses it to take children out of the world, rather than bringing lost things back into it.

Vic is responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of Manx and, having built up a cover story for herself about those events, she gets on with a semblance of life. But she is haunted by mysterious telephone calls seemingly from the children Manx has abducted and taken to the special place he calls Christmasland. Even after Manx is dead, he continues to haunt Vic McQueen and one day he comes for his revenge and abducts Vic's son. Vic needs to find a way to get back across her bridge, somewhere she's not been for many years, and rescue her son.

NOS-4R2 is a genuinely creepy story. Whilst Manx never directly abuses the children he rescues, the sense of wrong-doing that he imparts is palpable. When we get to see what he does do to the children, it's so disturbing to both the character and the reader that it somehow seems worse than the abuses perpetrated on the children by someone like the title character of Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates. Manx is a manipulator rather than an abuser and the way Joe Hill draws him makes that feel even worse than some other options, especially as he holds his belief that he's actually doing good by these children and remains unrepentant throughout.

Vic McQueen is another wonderfully drawn character, as the damaged heroine. She falls apart twice, as a child crumbling under the power of the Shorter Way and again as an adult, haunted by Manx and his children. Her awareness that she has treated people badly contrasts brilliantly with Manx's lack of repentance and the strength she finds when the lives of people she genuinely cares about are at stake is powerfully moving.

Hill is a superb writer, whether it's genetic or not. There are aspects of his father's writing you can see here, in that he takes a long time to build his characters and makes you genuinely care for the people involved in the story. Vic McQueen's past and her descent into a kind of madness as the phone calls start are presented well enough that the actions others in the book deem crazy seem almost reasonable and Lou's devotion to her is apparent. In the same way, Manx's beliefs are so strongly presented that Bing's devotion to him also seems quite natural.

As a long time Stephen King fan, I did enjoy the slight nods Joe Hill puts in to his father's works. He references places his father has used in his novels and some of the things Manx's Rolls Royce Wraith does evokes Stephen King's Christine. The largely character driven writing is much the same, as is the slow build and the way Hill draws you in to the novel and makes you care about his characters before he starts doing particularly nasty things to them.

Is NOS-4R2 a book greatly helped along by genetics? I don't know. What I do know is that it's a deeply disturbing book written by a great new writer in the horror field. Wherever Hill's talents came from, they're clearly on display here and he's certainly deserving of a long and successful career in the field to match his father's, to judge from this novel. If you're a reader who, like me, found the horror field through the popularity of Stephen King, you're going to love Joe Hill.

More from Joe Hill can be found in Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead by Christopher Golden (Editor), or Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates provides another disturbing story of child abduction.

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