The hero of Heart-Shaped Box is Jude Coyne, a middle-aged metal-rock star with a fascination for the morbid which shows itself, not only in his music, but also in his collection of creepy curios. When he sees a ghost being auctioned on the internet, he knows he has to have it for his collection. If it's a real ghost, cool; if it's not, it's still good press.
The seller states that she will send the buyer her stepdad's suit, because that is what the ghost seems to be clinging to, in the expectation that the ghost will follow the suit.
The suit arrives.
All hell breaks loose.
Hill's supernatural thriller is intense and frightening in the first section as the ghost makes his plans known to Jude--so much so that I often felt the pound of my heart. In the second part, as Jude begins to formulate a plan to survive the ghost, it feels like an action thriller, with car chases and gun standoffs and physical danger. As the story winds up to the climax, it returns to pure preternatural terror and then, thankfully, the storm is over and the final sections pull it all together with fine prose.
Hill's writing is excellent. He displays emotions so well, layers upon layers of emotion, that the characters actions and reactions are fully believable. The emotional depth of this story was surprising at times, and there were some very beautiful moments in the midst of all the thrills.
The characters are well developed, with back stories being fleshed out in a natural way, through memories and conversation. The only flaw I found in the book was that the hero suffered from Dan Brown Syndrome--Jude was able to keeping going an unnaturally long amount of time while injured. That said, Hill explained Jude's relationship to pain earlier in the book, and Jude often passed out, slept, hurt and was cranky. So, while he had way more pain tolerance that was probably possible, Hill covered all his bases with that one and it isn't a serious problem.
The importance of music in the story was a nice angle. I particularly enjoyed all the references to classic metal-rock bands, musicians and songs, some obvious and some very subtle.
Overall I was very impressed with Hill's prose, style and plot development. Heart-Shaped Box is more than just a "horror" novel. It is a well crafted novel that is certainly worth reading.
Elizabeth Grimsrud, November 8, 2009 (view all comments by Elizabeth Grimsrud)
Stephen King, move over! This super-creepy, gore-splattered novel had me turning the pages until the end, just to find out if the protagonists would end up in the world of the living or the world of the dead. I don't generally go for bloody horror stories, but the character development (including Judas's dogs) and the skillful blending of reality and fantastical supernatural malice had me enjoying this read. What better victims of a vengeful, deranged ghost than an aging death-metal rocker and his 20-something Goth girl friend?
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crowyhead, July 22, 2008 (view all comments by crowyhead)
This is a decent first novel from a horror writer to watch -- and not just because he's Stephen King's son. I tried hard not to go in with my expectations set too high or too low, which was probably wise; it's best to look at this as a first novel from any up-and-coming writer, and not pay too much attention to the author's family connections.
The main character is Jude Coyne, a semi-retired heavy metal rocker, who buys a supposedly haunted dead man's suit online for kicks. The suit (and the ghost that comes with it) turns out to have some surprising connections to his past, and Coyne ends up confronting both literal and figurative ghosts as he tries to lay the spirit to rest.
The novel starts out quite strong, and when it's basically a straight-up ghost story it's extremely creepy. Hill also does a nice job with the emotional resonances of the piece. The story starts to fall apart a bit partway through, turns into a hopeless (or so I thought) jumble for a while, and then finally resolves itself in a fairly satisfying, yet still confused, manner.
Basically, this is a good novel, but it's not a great novel, and it's not everything it could have been. I do intend, however, to read the next few things Hill publishes, because I think he's a talent to watch.
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redrockbookworm, July 22, 2008 (view all comments by redrockbookworm)
While some authors write simple morality tales in which evil characters get exactly what they deserve, Joe Hill has taken us one step further. The story centers on Jude Coyne, a middle aged death-metal rock star who is obsessed with ghoulish memorabilia and has the collection to prove it. His latest acquisition, purchased on an internet auction, purports to be the ghost of the sellers step-father and his favorite suit. When the UPS truck arrives Jude finds a black heart shaped box containing the old man's suit. As soon as the suit is taken from the box, Jude's life becomes inhabited by Craddock, a formidable dead man with a ghostly plan for Jude.
Like neopolitan ice cream, the story has several different flavors.....a touch of A Christmas Carol, the TV movie Duel, with perhaps a bit of James Patterson....and of course dear old dad (Stephen King)but don't think that this is a King clone, it's not. The book and story have a life of their own and after a few chapters, you won't care who Hill's father is....you will just be interested in the trials and tribulations of Jude Coyne.
If you enjoy the horror genre, this is your next purchase! Just don't buy it on the internet.....or it may arrive with more than you bargained for.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Stoker-winner Hill features a particularly merciless ghost in his powerful first novel. Middle-aged rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios for fun, so doesn't think twice about buying a suit advertised at an online auction site as haunted by its dead owner's ghost. Only after it arrives does Judas discover that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne's discarded groupies, and that the old man's ghost is a malignant spirit determined to kill Judas in revenge for his stepdaughter's suicide. Judas isn't quite the cad or Craddock the avenging angel this scenario makes them at first, but their true motivations reveal themselves only gradually in a fast-paced plot that crackles with expertly planted surprises and revelations. Hill (20th Century Ghosts) gives his characters believably complex emotional lives that help to anchor the supernatural in psychological reality and prove that (as one character observes) 'horror was rooted in sympathy.' His subtle and skillful treatment of horrors that could easily have exploded over the top and out of control helps make this a truly memorable debut." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Janet Maslin, The New York Times,
"Mr. Hill uses [the bare bones of his plot] to shockingly good effect, creating a wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty tale of horror. In a book much too smart to sound like the work of a neophyte, he builds character invitingly and plants an otherworldly surprise around every corner."
by Neil Gaiman,
"Heart-Shaped Box is, quite simply, the best debut horror novel since Clive Barker's Damnation Game, twenty years ago. It's the kind of book that the overworked adjectives people use on book jackets — relentless, gripping, powerful, a genuine page-turner — were really meant to describe, for it's all of those things, and enormously smart besides. A genuinely scary novel filled with people you care about; the kind of book that still stays in your mind after you've turned over the final page. I loved it unreservedly."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"Much will be made of the kinship of Hill and his superstar father, Stephen King, but Hill can stand on his own two feet. He's got horror down pat, and his debut is hair-raising fun."
by Library Journal (Starred Review),
"[A] wrenching and effective ghost story."
by Chicago Sun-Times,
"Heart-Shaped Box is not as good as the best of [Stephen] King, but it still makes for an entertaining and occasionally frightening read....The urgency of the story and the pace at which Hill tells it are turbocharged to the point where readers will likely be racing through the pages to see what happens next."
"Joe Hill...draws readers in from the first line and successfully creates a suspenseful and foreboding page-turner that keeps them up long after bedtime....[A] gripping, if grim, read."
"Hill has written a relentlessly scary ghost story." (UK)
by Horror World Book Reviews,
"Joe Hill creates a novel that is sure to stand up proudly against any of the classic ghost stories that reside on your bookshelf."
by Denver Post,
"[A]n unsettling ghost story that takes what could be a laughable premise and adds so many twists and shocks that readers will be white-knuckling their armchairs by novel's end....Heart-Shaped Box is the perfect Valentine for the lover of good horror fiction."
by Rocky Mountain News,
"Leaner and meaner than any of his dad's recent works, Heart-Shaped Box is a frightening, addictive road novel....The chapters are short and hard-hitting — think James Patterson, but meatier."
by Seattle Times,
"Heart-Shaped Box truly deserves the superlatives heaped upon it by the publicists who smoothed the path of this first novel's advent."
by Cleveland Plain Dealer,
"[A] vivid, convincing tale that puts the tropes of old-fashioned ghost stories to work in the world of an almost-washed-up rock star....The pictures [Hill] painted colored my dreams and darkened my mood even after I'd put the book down."
by Harper Collins,
“Wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty….A Valentine from hell.” —Janet Maslin, New York Times
The publication of Joe Hills beautifully textured, deliciously scary debut novel Heart-Shaped Box was greeted with the sort of overwhelming critical acclaim that is rare for a work of skin-crawling supernatural terror. It was cited as a Best Book of the Year by Atlanta magazine, the Tampa Tribune, the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and the Village Voice, to name but a few. Award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling Neil Gaiman of The Sandman, The Graveyard Book, and Anansi Boys fame calls Joe Hills story of a jaded rock star haunted by a ghost he purchased on the internet, “relentless, gripping, powerful.” Open this Heart-Shaped Box from two-time Bram Stoker Award-winner Hill if you dare and see what all the well-deserved hoopla is about.
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