fantasy and science fiction book reviewsLocke and Key (Vol. 2): Head Games by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

LOCKE AND KEY VOL 2 HEAD GAMESA solid and scary second section to this first-class horror story.

Warning; may contain spoilers of Volume One; Welcome to Lovecraft

After everything the Locke family went through in Volume One, Welcome to Lovecraft, they need a break. Unfortunately, in Volume Two of this powerful graphic horror novel, they aren’t going to get one.

Head Games starts with an elderly teacher at Lovecraft Academy. Joe Ridgeway wakes from a wistful, distressing dream of his dead wife. Ridgeway has taught at the Academy for a long time, long enough to remember the group of friends led by Rendell Locke, back in the 1980s. One day, Ridgeway sees Tyler Locke, Rendell’s son, walking with Luke “Dodge” Caravaggio, one of Rendell’s friends. Ridgeway, startled and confused, calls Dodge’s name, and Dodge reacts. Of course it can’t be him, for two reasons. Dodge would be a man in his late thirties by now. More seriously, Dodge is dead, one of Rendell’s doomed friends who was killed in a horrific accident. Soon, Ridgeway is face to face with the evil thing that escaped from the well-house. Luke Caravaggio is back, and he has a special key he stole from the Locke family, the Anywhere Key. He can create a door and open it into anyplace he wants, as long as he can visualize the location. Luke moves through Keyhouse with contemptuous ease, searching for an even more important artifact, the Omega Key.

head games 2The Locke children are distracted, though, by the discovery made by Bode, the youngest, of a key that unlocks a person’s head. This lets people add or remove things. The artwork throughout this book shows several people with the tops of their heads removed. It’s not for the queasy or faint-of-heart. Inside the heads, though, Rodriguez goes wild with interpretations of people’s minds.

The Locke kids are smart and strong, but they are kids, and they make the choices kids would make. Kinsey, the middle child, is tired of feeling scared and crying all the time. Another death at the school rattles her even more, and she removes her fear and her crying from her head. (In a move of artistic genius, she puts them in a soft drink bottle.) Tyler is more interested in what he can put in. He has fallen behind in his studies – he hasn’t opened a book all school year – and now he shoves entire volumes in. This gives him a problem when he tries to help his new crush, the wealthy bad-girl Jordan.

The family may have settled in, but they are nowhere near over the horror that brought them here. All the children mourn their savagely murdered father. Tyler still wrestles with guilt. Kinsey deals with fear by removing it. Her mother tries to drown hers in wine or bourbon.

Head Games opens a window into the life of Duncan Locke, Rendell’s younger brother. Duncan is a gay artist with a lover in Provincetown. He devoted the summer to his family, because of everything they had been through, but his life is calling. Duncan doesn’t remember, but he knows a lot about the keys, and about the caves at the edge of the island. He even knows what happened there, so many years ago. A yearbook picture taken after a performance of The Tempest keeps reappearing, and there are clues in that picture; big ones.

Back in Provincetown, Duncan and his partner Brian become the victims of both an act of random violence and a planned violation by Luke, who wants his identity kept a secret.

Unlike Welcome to Lovecraft, Head Games does not have a discrete story arc. At the end nothing is resolved, but Luke has gained even more power over the family, and the Lockes do not know it. Along the way, more clues have been planted about the keys, their origin, and Luke’s motivations.

head games1Head Games has an epilogue that explains why the girls’ track coach, Ellie Whedon, would be willing to shelter Luke and provide him with a false identity.

The character of Brian seems the least developed in this segment. Mostly he is composed of opposites-of-Duncan. He is older, short, not particularly handsome, a blue-collar sports fan to Duncan’s graceful, artistic young man of privilege. I questioned the attack on Brian and Duncan as being a little anachronistic, but it is still believable. Luke’s relationship with Ellie, on the other hand, seemed stomach-churningly plausible.

Hill’s writing, once again, is great but Rodriguez’s artwork shines here. Take a look at the splash page on 16-17, with its cameo-like insets. The shadows of the audience members in the balcony alone are worth a look just for how evocative they are. This is a memorable image and it should be. We will be seeing it again. I also like the way Rodriquez often depicts a key against a black background, with a thread of gold or blue light around its edges, a reminder that these keys are otherworldly.

The last few pages of the book show us various keys that can be found in Keyhouse, and share a bit of history of how they work.

If Welcome to Lovecraft pitched us head-first into horror, Head Games plays, well, head games; flicking off the lights, cranking up the tension, sprinkling clues that we know are important but can’t decipher yet. This volume advances the story, and it has me worried. Very worried. Things are going Luke’s way, and what’s coming next can’t be good.



  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.