NOS4A2: A Novel
Written By: Joe Hill
Hardcover: 704 pages
Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition
Charles Talent Manx has a gift. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. 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.
NOS4A2 is a powerhouse of a horror thriller from Joe Hill. There’s little else that can be said, really. But I’ll try.
Following in the footsteps once more of his father, the great Stephen King, Hill builds on Heart-shaped Box and Horns to prove that he has picked up the mantle of his father and, like Nightwing to Batman, he threatens to one day better his teacher.
However, the beginning of the road is a little bumpy. When Hill kicks off the story of a soul-less demon called Charlie Manx who steals little children and one day crosses Vic McQueen, a young girl destined on a crash course with him and his Rolls Royce Wraith, he takes a little while to get going.
Don’t get me wrong, a slow-burner can be a good thing and there’s nothing wrong with Hill’s set-up or characterisation. In fact it’s spot on. So spot on that it feels like a Stephen King book. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily, but I felt that Hill was in danger of losing his own voice while stepping into his dad’s shoes.
Thankfully though, and perhaps because Hill started this story at college and worked on it for years, he does find is voice and when he does the book picks up pace and never lets up.
Make no mistake, however, this story, while not written By King, firmly takes place in his universe. A universe where criminals end up in Shawshank, where Pennywise’s Circus lies in the nightmares of children and where doors appear from nowhere and lead to locations on this world and the Midworld. Heck, I almost expected to see Roland of Gilead or to visit Castlerock.
But these things don’t distract from a story that is terrifying – the race for a young child who’s soul is horrifyingly close to being lost struck a chord with me as a father that so few have. The characters of Vic and her partner Lou were real, I can identify with them (though thankfully not their plight) and the fact that they exist in a universe I know and have walked in for years, albeit in the hands of another writer, is welcome and (oddly) comforting. But as both a stand-alone story or as part of a mythology that King and now Hill has worked on for over 40 years, NOS4A2 stands strong and confident.
Hill is confident and clever in his writing, managing to create characters and events that, no matter how crazy or bizarre, are perfectly believable in the confines of this story and world. My only concern is that Hill doesn’t lose his own voice; it’s almost like saying he’s too good, but he is a superb writer and I love that he plays in his father’s universe, but please Joe, stay there but don’t be afraid to shout in your own voice.
If you suspend your disbelief and grab on to the idea of roadways through time and space, of (sort of) vampires driving the roads searching out victims or worlds beyond reality then you are in for a hellishly good time.
And even if you don’t buy into these things you should try this work anyway, who knows what dark roads it might lead you down… some – if not most – of which you’ll really enjoy.