Horror, true horror, is difficult to find these days. The genre has been overshadowed by images meant to shock rather than scare. With Hex, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, an established and successful author in Holland, unleashes a classic ghost story, with enough modern twists to keep all readers from having a good night's sleep.
In 1664, Katherine van Wyler was accused of being a witch and then killed. Her unfair treatment immediately culminated in her cursing her home town and its residents in the following ways: If you are born there, you can never leave. If you settle there, you can never leave. If you attempt to leave, and are gone for more than a few days, you will be plagued with suicidal thoughts and impulses to which you will ultimately succumb unless you make your way back in time. And the ghost of Katherine van Wyler, wrapped in chains, with her eyes and mouth sewn shut, wanders the town’s streets, loiters in the town’s businesses and invades the homes of its residents at any time of the day or night. Welcome to Black Spring, New York!
Because Katherine’s demise occurred prior to the colonies breaking away from England, the US Government has always known about her and the curse. The acronym HEX (It's meaning long lost.) was established to minimize the effects of the curse. West Point was located nearby as a resource in case it was needed. In the 1960s, the last time an attempt was made to actively study or interact with Katherine, several people mysteriously dropped dead. So, HEX, with all of the formidable scientific and defensive resources at its disposal, has only been able to maintain a stand-off with her. HEX hides the ghost in plain sight, touting the “myth” of the Black Spring’s ghost to bring in tourists (and uses that myth to explain away sightings of Katherine by outsiders). The residents of the town do their best to avoid Katherine or tolerate her appearances, turning away as the ghost wanders through town or mysteriously appears in their homes. It has always been this way, and always will be, until some teenagers decide they are going to expose Katherine and HEX to the outside world. They think that once everyone knows, a solution will be found, and they will be free to live their lives as they wish. What could possibly go wrong. . .
In Hex, Olde Heuvelt crafts a classic gothic ghost story, but then plants it firmly in the environs of the 21st century, which creates a story that is atmospheric, unsettling, disturbing and shocking, just not the way readers may anticipate. The most frightening aspect of Hex is how absolutely believable it all is. If you are willing to accept the concept of a ghost controlling a small town for longer than the United States has been a country, all of the other occurrences in the novel are easily believable. And as unsettling as the idea of a nearly 500-year-old spirit controlling and killing off people in a contemporary town might be, it does not hold a candle to the evils that the living are willing to unleash upon each other. And it doesn’t always require a supernatural catalyst. It is a chilling reality that Olde Heuvelt explores masterfully with unsettling results.