Dutch novelist Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s English language debut shows his obvious love of American genre fiction (especially the great Stephen King), but it also shows that he’s very much capable of building a convincing small East Coast town and then tearing it to pieces.
Black Rock might look like an idyllic upstate New York getaway, but there’s a reason why the locals don’t want anyone new moving in. The town is haunted by grudge-bearing witch Katherine Van Wyler, who appears and reappears at will and whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Her whispers can compel rational people to kill themselves, but don’t think about moving away. Once you buy into Black Rock, you’re stuck there, and any long period of time out of town results in suicidal thoughts.
The trapped citizens do their best to live normal lives, but when frustrated teenager Tyler and his friends begin to push their luck, a chain of events begins that will put everyone’s lives in danger. How far can these people be pushed before they snap?
It’s hard to read this kind of story and not be reminded of King (Pet Sematary and Needful Things particularly come to mind), but after a couple of early wobbles we’re rewarded with a thoughtful and intricately constructed chiller that drags its characters slowly but surely towards their doom. Olde Heuvelt takes the time to establish the power dynamics as well as the family relationships that will see dividing lines being drawn.
It’s definitely scary. Katherine is a fantastically creepy creation, and her place in the town is very well thought out. There’s a special team dedicated to keeping track of her, but everyone’s gotten complacent. As Olde Heuvelt pushes his characters to breaking point, we see that human nature is just as scary as any monster.