September 17, 2007
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Finished on 9/5/07
Rating: 4.5/5 (Terrific!)
R.I.P. II Challenge #2
Like father, like son!
Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals . . . a used hangman's noose . . . a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can't help but reach for his wallet.
I will "sell" my stepfather's ghost to the highest bidder. . . .
For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man's suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn't afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts—of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What's one more?
But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It's the real thing.
And suddenly the suit's previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door . . . seated in Jude's restored vintage Mustang . . . standing outside his window . . . staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting—with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand. . . .
A multiple-award winner for his short fiction, author Joe Hill immediately vaults into the top echelon of dark fantasists with a blood-chilling roller-coaster ride of a novel, a masterwork brimming with relentless thrills and acid terror.
and from Bookmarks Magazine
Heart-Shaped Box raises the obvious question: Does the talent of Joe Hill (née Joseph Hillstrom King) match that of his father, Stephen King? Certainly, Hill has earned acclaim in his own right; his short-story collection 20th Century Ghosts won both the British Fantasy Award and a Bram Stoker. Critics agree that if blood, gore, and psychological terror keep you turning the pages, you'll enjoy the novel's murderous dreamscape and Hill's lean, witty, and hard-hitting style. In order to buy into the story, however, you'll first have to believe in the ghost's powerful existence—and not all critics did. Only the New York Times Book Review completely panned the novel's characterizations, overkill, and implausible plot. The verdict: Heart-Shaped Box is a strong walk in Hill's father's footsteps.
I started this book before our trip, but found it too creepy to read at night, so I set it aside for the flights to Oregon. Not only did this intense page-turner keep me engrossed during the four-hour layover in Dallas, but it kept me thoroughly entertained for the three-hour flight, the pace never faltering or falling short. As I read, I sensed a bit of familiarity in the creepy style, which I suppose is only natural since Hill probably heard the best-of-the-best ghost stories as a young boy thanks to his dad's incredibly twisted imagination. But I say this as a compliment; Hill's talent should not be overlooked. He may have learned from a master, but I have a feeling if he continues with this genre, he too may have 2-3 shelves of books devoted to his works. It's too bad Heart-Shaped Box is his debut novel, as I'd love to have a backlist of titles to look forward to. I do plan to track down a copy of his short-story collection (20th Century Ghosts) and maybe that will hold me over until he releases a second novel.
I loved Heart-Shaped Box and am fairly confident it'll be on my 2007 Top Ten list. The only reason it didn't get a perfect 5/5 was due to the lack of any lyrical passages; otherwise, it's fabulous. It definitely falls in the keep-a-nightlight-on spooky ghost story category; a perfect choice for Carl's R.I.P. II Challenge and one I'll be anxious to recommend to customers at work. But beware! If you don't like horror books (particularly those like The Shining and It), you might want to skip this one. Or, do what I did and read it during the day!
A couple of final notes -- Amazon has two guest reviewers for Hill's book. I especially enjoyed Scott Smith's (The Ruins) take on the book, but felt Harlan Coben's had too many spoilers (as did Publishers Weekly), so you might want to skip that one. Also, as I was re-reading my post for Stephen King's Dreamcatcher, I realized pretty much everything I'd written about his style and the book's suspense could've been used to describe his son's book Heart-Shaped Box. The apple sure doesn't fall far from the tree!