Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill 384 pp. William Morrow. $24.95
Reviewed by Paul StottsFor a debut author, Joe Hill received an inordinate amount of press coverage accompanying his new novel, "Heart-Shaped Box". No, it wasn't for the nod to the classic Nirvana song of the same name. The reason--Joe just happens to have some famous genetics working for him. In this case, his father is the legendary horror master Stephen King. This fact which was conveniently leaked to the media on the novel's release appeared well designed to sell tons of copies of the book whether it was good or not. So the question becomes, does the book stand on its own merits, or is this a case where celebrity is being marketed over merit?
"Heart-Shaped Box" is a rather simple, straightforward ghost story that accelerates into a supernatural road novel. Judas Coyne, an aging rock star, collects macabre oddities like a cookbook for cannibals and a snuff film among other things. One day on an internet auction site, he stumbles across someone trying to sell their stepfather's ghost. Unable to resist, Judas immediately buys the spirit. Soon after, a package arrives with the dead man's suit inside, supposedly haunted by the ghost.
Almost immediately, the ghost appears and begins tormenting Jude, aiming for his death and all those that are close to him. Soon the malicious ghost chases Jude and his girlfriend, Georgia, out of their house and out on the road, pushing them deeper into the heart of the mystery. What is the ghost's motivation for vengeance, and why is it focused on Jude?
Hill displays a understanding of pacing and building anticipation that are top-notch. I found myself pulled through the novel, always wanting to read one more page and not wishing to put it down. The ending, while satisfying, loses some steam as it goes slightly over the top compared with the more realistic vibe established earlier in the novel. The main characters of Jude and Georgia are well-conceived and executed, the dead man's ghost is a perfect foil, a seemingly unstoppable and horrific force of nature the couple can't escape. Hill masterfully builds tension during the calm moments in between the ghost's appearances, displaying an overall strong sense of storytelling.
Last Word: "Heart-Shaped Box" is an immensely entertaining debut novel that grabs hold of the reader, scares the hell out them and then scares the hell out of them again. The novel immediately catapults Hill into the top echelon of horror writers currently working. Oozing promise like this, Joe Hill establishes a strong name for himself completely separate from his legendary genetics. A very fun, fast, hell of a read for those who like spooky stories.