TITLE: HEART SHAPED BOX
AUTHOR: JOE HILL
BLURB: Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc. — so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.
This is Joe Hill’s debut novel and as such it justifies all of the nice things said about it by other authors. The writing is articulate without falling into the trap of being pretentious and it spares the reader from the over descriptive prose that ghost stories often subject us to.
The main characters seem familiar because to a great extent they’re standard horror cast members, but not enough to make you feel cheated because great effort is made to give you enough insight and backstory to make them real people you can both care about and be terrified of if necessary.
The story itself is a familiar one of revenge, staple fair in ghost stories, and the pace is well timed to keep you turning the page. There are twists of sorts and you will feel creeped out at times but if you’re a complete gorefest movie fan you might not get enough of what you like here. The horror is mostly psychological but there are moments that will make you consider sleeping with the light on.
I wanted to write this review without referencing Joe Hill’s father – Stephen King – but since King has become the benchmark for good horror novels (we’ll steer clear of the movie adaptations for now), then it would be wrong not to make comparisons, even if we forget the family ties. Joe Hill’s writing reminds me of King’s twenty or more years ago when it was less self-indulgent than it has proven to be on some more recent occasions. Hill will do for his characters what King did for small-town America, make them accessible to the world at large.
It lacks some of the atmosphere required to make it a great ghost story – not enough things go bump in the night, but it’s a good read and will leave you wanting to read more of Joe Hill’s work.