A good-natured romp in the garden of good and evil—or, as rising horror/fantasy maven Hill (Heart-Shaped Box, 2007, etc.) has it, Christmasland.
If you remember Stephen King’s It or, heck, “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” you’ll remember that there are few setups creepier than a dude with shiny toys luring children to their doom. It gets creepier still when Santa Claus has “gaping jaws,” and a supernatural harpy comes equipped with ornaments that “dangled from her pierced breasts”—why, it’s enough to put a person off Christmas forever. The author of all this mayhem (and Hill is so skillful that we don’t know till the very end whether he’ll get away with it) is a mysterious but charming hellion named Charles Talent Manx, who likes nothing better than to take the local youth for a one-way spin in a Rolls-Royce Wraith bearing the easily deciphered license plate that is the novel’s title. Can anyone stop his infernal joy riding? Maybe, just maybe, and it makes perfect sense that it’s a steampunk-ish young woman who patrols the Massachusetts landscape on a Raleigh bike. Though there are King-ian shades—the underworld setup, the possessed car, the cool chick—Hill’s story is quite original, and, for horror fans of a certain ironic bent, it’s an unqualified delight, well-written and, within limits, believable. It’s also quite gruesome in spots (“The Gasmask Man was in two pieces, connected by a single fatty string of gut”) and altogether quite scary, all of which adds up to a successful exercise in spookiness.
Bonus points for being smart and having a young woman as a heroine who doesn’t need saving herself. Fun for all ages, though maybe with a PG warning.