witchcraft and madness in a small townHEX is the first of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s five nov­els to be trans­lated into Eng­lish, a pow­er­ful and riv­et­ing tale of witch­craft and a town’s slow and ghastly descent into madness.

In 1664 Kather­ine van Wyler was forced to kill her own child and then sen­tenced to death for witch­craft in the Hud­son Val­ley town of Black Spring – a crime the towns­peo­ple have been pay­ing for ever since. Katherine’s ghost pops up every­where, in the midst of a town fes­ti­val, at the bed­side of a child, in plain view on Main Street. She makes for a pathetic fig­ure, bound in iron chains, her mouth and eyes sewn shut to pre­vent her from caus­ing more havoc.

Yet havoc she does cause. Res­i­dents of Black Spring may leave the town for short dura­tions, but for those that linger too long in the out­side world, the urge for sui­cide becomes over­pow­er­ing. You buy a house in Black Spring, as one newly arrived cou­ple learns, you never get to leave.

Teenager Tyler Grant finds the lim­i­ta­tions of life in Black Spring intol­er­a­ble. He recruits some friends, includ­ing one bud­ding sociopath, to help him post videos of the witch on the inter­net, thus vio­lat­ing Black Spring’s most pow­er­ful taboo – thou shalt not let the out­side world know about the witch. What begins as lit­tle more than a prank unleashes an ever-​widening cir­cle of hell, one that sweeps Tyler and his fam­ily up in a hor­rific chain of events.

Heuvelt rewrote the Dutch ver­sion of HEX for an Amer­i­can audi­ence, chang­ing the set­ting to the Hud­son Val­ley and, accord­ing to the author, writ­ing a new and even more shock­ing end­ing. What­ever the lan­guage, it’s a chill­ing novel on many lev­els – from cruel sev­en­teenth cen­tury cus­toms to a har­row­ing and deeply dis­turb­ing vision of human nature.

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