Joe Hill describes his terrifying novel

One of the most eagerly awaited books this year is Joe Hill’s novel “NOS4A2.” Before you even open it up you’ll encounter a puzzle. On the cover there’s a picture of a license plate bearing the title “NOS4A2.”

If you sound it out you’ll have your first clue about this story.

Did you recognize it? The license plate number sounds out the word “Nosferatu.” Horror movie buffs will recognize the name as the title of the classic 1922 German horror film “Nosferatu : A Symphony of Horror.”

That movie was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram’s Stoker’s novel “Dracula.”

Hill’s novel pays a loving tribute to that most undead of monsters, Count Dracula. This massive volume takes readers on a terrifying but fantastic ride over a terrain that shifts at warp speed. “NOS4A2” is that rare book that is still giving this reviewer nightmares. Oh, the horror!

And it made me nervous, too. I didn’t want to give away any spoilers, so I called up Joe Hill and I asked him to provide a pithy synopsis of his story line. Here’s what he told me:

“ ‘NOS4A2’ is the story of a bad fellow named Charlie Manx who drives this very old Rolls Royce Wraith that runs on human souls. Charlie is a kind of a vampire. He’s been alive for 104 years, and he’s kept himself young and healthy by draining something essential from small children.

“He takes kids for a ride in his Rolls Royce. Eventually he lets them out in a place called Christmasland, a kind of nightmarish amusement park. They’re normal when they get into his car, but when the kids get out of his car they’re not the same any more. They’ve become grinning ghoulish frozen vampires.

“So ‘NOS4A2’ is about Charlie Manx and about the one kid who escapes from him. And this kid, Vic McQueen, grows up and becomes a reluctant but loving mother. Vic finds herself forced to confront him once again when Charlie comes for her son.”

Dracula had a devoted assistant. So does Charlie Manx. Bing Partridge of Sugarcreek, Pa., is the creepiest and most devoted helper an undead child abductor could ever want. He entertains this fantasy that one day Manx will actually take him to Christmasland. In the meantime he will do anything for Manx. Anything.

“NOS4A2” seems destined to become a classic in the horror genre. It is a fevered roller coaster of a novel that executes some hairpin turns.

This reviewer could not turn the pages quickly enough.

It all comes down to a battle of the minds. Vick McQueen and Charlie Manx engage in an epic duel. There are no rules. The author dedicates this book to his mother, Tabitha King. He describes her as “a creative thinker of the first order.” And he acknowledges his father’s influence. He admits that “I guess I have been cruising his back roads my whole life. I don’t regret it.”

His dad, the novelist Stephen King, must be delighted.

You can hear my interview with Joe Hill at 11 a.m. today on WYSO-FM (91.3).

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