“He understood that the ghost existed first and foremost within his own head. That maybe ghosts always haunted minds, not places. If he wanted to take a shot at it, he’d have to turn the barrel against his own temple.”
TITLE & AUTHOR: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
PUBLISHED : February 13th 2007, by William Morrow
MY RATING: 4/5
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.
The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.
Digging through my drafts, I found an old review from 2018 which I forgot to post! It was actually a great read, and a buddy-read with Kara @ Bernard’s Book Blog, but somehow this review got left behind, along with my other drafts. I think it deserves to be published, because I really enjoyed this novel, and I struggled writing this review, but I like the end result. Enjoy!
Well well! This is my first Joe Hill novel, and I can already see myself becoming a fan, and not just because of the fact that Hill’s father is no other than Stephen King! Hill definitely doesn’t use his father’s fame to his gain, which is obvious by the fact he uses a pen name, but if you give him a chance, you’ll see he has quite a unique writing style, reminiscent but still completely separate from King’s.
Heart-Shaped Box gives us a protagonist by the name of Judas Coyne, who’s a stereotype of an ancient rock-star, using his old fame to score with young, pretty girls, and his money to score some pretty unusual and macabre “collectible items”, like human bones, and serial killer memorabilia. In some ways, Judas reminded me of Ozzy Osbourne (You should know who that is, but if you don’t then go to YouTube and listen to Black Sabbath’s Paranoid NOW), but only in good/freaky ways! Because, unlike Ozzy, Judas is a total scumbag.
He doesn’t even deign to remember his child girlfriends’ names, instead he calls them by the state they’re from, the current poor thing being Georgia. He does have two dogs who he loves more than life, but that doesn’t excuse his chauvinistic ass. Judas may have mellowed down with age, but some things he did in the past are so awful they still haunt him to this day. Like Florida, birth name Anna McDermott.
As I mentioned earlier, Judas loves to collect freaky and disturbing stuff, and when one day his assistant stumbles upon an ad which claims to sell a real ghost, Judas doesn’t even hesitate. Maybe he should have given it a second thought though, because when a black, heart-shaped box arrives on his doorstep, and inside is a dead man’s suit, it turns out it’s haunted by Craddock McDermott, the late stepfather of none other than Anna McDermott. The whole sale was a trap, a chance for revenge on Judas and the things he did (And didn’t do.), and of course he’s too gullible and self absorbed, so he falls right into the perfectly-laid trap.
Hill’s writing is so good, that even though Judas is a scumbag all throughout the novel, you can’t help but feel for him, because the horror unleashed on him is palpable and terrifying and doesn’t let go. It’s like someone let a mad dog loose on him, and the irony is that by some paranormal laws, the only thing that keeps Craddock‘s ghost at bay, are Judas’s two dogs. Most of the novel is a wild ride where Judas and Georgia are racing to reach Anna’s home, with mad Craddock always on their heels, building the adrenaline and the horror by the chapter.
The evil ghost plays awful games with Judas’s mind, even involving his unpleasant memories of his father, and Georgia isn’t spared either. She decides to stand with Judas, regardless of his obvious mistreat of her, but it’s not like she had a choice either, because after touching the dead man’s suit, she pricked her palm on a hidden needle, resulting in a gruesome infection which starts playing with her mind. Judas and Georgia aren’t that likeable as people, but facing this horror they become regular, scared people, just like you and me, and their reactions and primal instincts are relatable to any human being.
Most of the plot is high-speed and interesting, or mind-bending and psychedelic, but there were some parts which were a bit boring and slow to get through. If I’d have to describe Heart-Shaped Box in one word, I’d definitely say gritty. I recommend it if you love King, and also if you don’t, but want to read a cool horror novel. I have a feeling my next Hill read, NOS4A2, will be a 5 star, we’ll see soon.