The downside to the excessive popularity of vampires these days is that the concept behind vampirism - a being that drains the life force of its prey and turns the victim into a monster - has been lost. Luckily we have Joe Hill's new novel to make not just vampires (of a sort) scary again, but to make Christmas creepier than you ever thought possible.
Charlie Manx drives a Rolls Royce Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2, and with the help of his assistant Bing he finds children who have unhappy lives ahead of them, and takes them to a place where every day is Christmas. Sounds great? There are just a few problems: Charlie has no real way of knowing that the children's lives will be unhappy, Bing is a pervert and rapist, the journey to Christmasland turns the children into conscienceless monsters with lamprey-like mouths. For years Charlie has been spiriting away children to Christmasland, while Bing keeps the children's mothers captive as sex slaves.
But Manx meets his match in Victoria "Vic" McQueen. A teenage girl with anger issues and a disintegrating family, Vic has a gift for finding things. She goes looking for trouble one day, is kidnapped by Manx, escapes him, and gets him put behind bars. Years later, the comatose Manx dies and comes back from the dead, planning on taking more children to Christmasland, and getting revenge on Vic, now a single mom still haunted by her childhood encounter with Manx.
Hill's third novel is a read both scary and satisfying on many levels. It juxtaposes the supernatural horrors of Manx and his Yuletide Neverland with the more mundane (but no less frightening) terrors of Bing and his drugged, abused captives. And it gives us a number of well-written characters: Manx is a true believer, as the scariest villains always are; Vic is a flawed woman trying to live with the burden not just of her traumatic encounter with Manx but with the toll her semi-magical "gift" of finding things takes on her, mentally and physically. There's a good supporting cast of characters as well, most notably Vic's boyfriend (and father of her child) Lou, a gentle giant and nerd-boy supreme.
It's creepy and compelling, and the only quibble is that at times it feels not quite as original as it wants to be. But it's the strongest of Hill's novels, and will keep you turning the pages...and quite possibly make Christmas creepier than Halloween.