After reading several favorable reviews of Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill and learning he is the second son of Stephen King, the iconic master of the genre, I decided to give Heart Shaped Box a try.
Right from the start, the pace and the conciseness of the chapters impressed me. Joe Hill did not fill his pages with superfluous tangents, but continued to stay on course, which I found refreshing and noteworthy.
It had been a while since I read a book I did not want to put down, and this was it.
The story is about Judas Coyne, an over the hill heavy metal rock star and his relationships with two younger women that impact his life in his later years . Jude is wealthy, makes an occasional new album, and is basically enjoying the luxuries afforded him from his successful career as a rock star. One of Jude’s hobbies is collecting weird memorabilia like shrunken heads, snuff films, articles owned by serial killers, and the like. Knowing this, his assistant, who takes care of his affairs, is elated when he runs across an ad of someone claiming to have a ghost for sale. Even with the current bid at only $80, the ludicrous proposal fascinates Jude,and he directs his aide to buy the ghost now for $1,000.
When a heart-shaped box containing the dead man’s suit arrives, it turns out the joke is on Jude and everyone close to him who immediately become the target of an honest to god vengeful ghost.
Jude discovers the item on the auction site was not a coincidence, but a setup. The seller and the deceased were not strangers, but the sister and the stepfather of a tortured soul Jude had dumped after a long-term relationship, who later committed suicide.
We learn in the back story that Jude has been a bad boy throughout his adult life after suffering through an abusive childhood at the hands of his father. The rock icon had a reputation for loving and then discarding female companions and groupies like used condom wrappers on the way out of each town. Unfortunately this time, the stepfather of Jude’s former live-in lover possesses super hypnotic powers even in death and is hell-bent on offing the rock star and anyone who tries to help him stay alive.
Joe Hill’s creation is much more than a ghost story. It is a tale of betrayal and redemption. Jude, in his fight for survival, sees a man in the mirror he is not proud of, and it is not the ghost.
Since I read most of the book in the light of day, and I am a hardened horror fanatic and write fiction in this genre myself, I did not obsess over turning out the light when I went to bed while reading Joe’s book, but I know he used every trick in his arsenal to make this a scary story, and I think he succeeded. The book has many horrific moments and a generous smattering of blood and gore to satisfy the insatiable blood lust of most horror fans.
I‘ve read quite extensively this year, and of all the books I’ve read, The Heart Shaped Box had the strongest beginning. For me , I didn’t think the entire book maintained the same relentless intensity throughout, but that feat was probably an impossible task in light of the beginning.
Congrats, Joe, on your fine novel. I highly recommend it and look forward to reading your other offerings.