Book #10: Heart-Shaped Box

Now that the proverbial cat's out of the bag, I don't know if you can really talk about Joe Hill's debut novel Heart- Shaped Box without addressing the issue of Mr. Hill's lineage. Specifically, that his last name is actually King, as in, "Yes, I am Stephen King's son, so can we stop talking about it?" And that might be too bad, because Heart-Shaped Box is a classic modern ghost story that revels in its chosen genre, and is a fantastic debut reminiscent of his father's great stand-alone early work.

Judas Coyne is an aging rock god, content to live in the middle of New York with his latest groupie conquest Georgia (he nick names his girlfriends after the state they're from) secluded from just about everything - the abusive father he left 30 years before in Louisiana, the deaths of two of his former band mates, and the wife who left him over his preoccupation with death and music and being the star the public holds him to be. It's the preoccupation with the occult that leads him to purchase a "ghost" over an eBay-like auction site. What arrives is a large black heart-shaped box, with the suit of a dead man inside it. Unfortunately for Jude and Georgia, along with the old suit is the spirit of Craddock Price, hellbent on ensuring that Jude and anyone with him take a night ride to Hell.

The strength of Heart-Shaped Box lies in its ingenious plot. What starts out as seeming chance and coincidence turns into something much more sinister as Jude finds out that maybe it wasn't dumb luck that sent the ghost to his door but plans and machinations that were set into motion much earlier. Hill also has a great ear for dialog and character, using regional dialects and smart writing to flesh out Jude and Georgia. The characters and events feel anchored in a world that is both familiar and timeless, like a Rockwell painting painted by the Devil, something that the elder King excels in with his own work. There are suitably creepy moments and images, especially the descriptions of the ghost's eyes, which are scribbled out with black marker. Lots of blood and gore and a compelling story that doesn't use cheats leaves you with a very satisfying book that earns its ending deliciously. If you like this sort of thing (and I do), Heart-Shaped Box is a fast and rewarding read.