September 17, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box

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!

Book Description

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!


  1. I felt the sameway re: a hypothetical backlist. :) Come on Joe Hill! Publish some more!

  2. Anonymous10:08 AM

    The Shining was one of my favorite scary reads, so maybe I should check out this book. Thanks for the review.

  3. Great review. I also loved this one and it will make my top ten of the year easily.

    Hill's description of Craddock and the little kidnapped girl were so beyond creepy, I still can't get them out of my mind.

  4. Anonymous6:43 PM

    I've got this book somewhere here. I'll have to hunt it up and try to read it before Halloween. As you know, I have been a big Stephen King fan. Love to be scared!

  5. OK - clearly I have to put this one on my list.

  6. Anonymous8:49 AM

    oooh. I'll have to put this one on my wish list. thanks for reviewing it!

  7. Eva - Have you read his collection of ghost stories? Bookfool had a nice review for the book back in April. Go here if you're interested.

    Stephanie - Ooh, if you liked The Shining, I think you'll enjoy this one, too. Glad you enjoyed the review. :)

    Kookiejar - Sounds like Joe Hill is establishing quite a fan club -- at least amongst us bloggers. :) Yep, he did quite a good job with his character development. I have vivid images of several characters and settings. The dogs were great, too.

    Kay - It's a perfect book for Halloween! Very, very creepy. You'll love it.

    SuziQ - Yes, you do!

    Heather - I doubt you'll be disappointed.

  8. How does this compare to a Jan Burke? I recently read one of hers and really liked it. Don't know if it's exactly horror or more suspense.

    I should maybe try Heart-Shaped Box in the daylight.

  9. I'm just gonna have to suck it up and buy it. And I never do that. I can't wait anymore!

  10. I have to admit I kind of skimmed your review. I have been wanting to read this....but my loser brother took my book and hasn't given it back yet!! The little creep!!

  11. Booklogged - I wish I knew! I've never read anything by Burke, so I can't be of any help. As far as reading during daylight hours, that seems critical during the first half of the book. By the second half, either I was used to the fear-factor or it calmed down a bit. Have fun! ;)

    Andi - If I hadn't borrowed the book, I'd send it out to you. I'd be surprised if you can't find it at the library.

    Stephanie - I do the same thing. If someone reviews a book I know I want to read, I make a note of their review so I can come back to it once I've finished the book. And I rarely ever read quoted passages, since I want to experience them for the first time as I'm reading the book. Hope you enjoy Hill's book as much as I did! Let me know.

  12. Well, our county has a CRAP library system, however, they do have the book. I don't have a library card yet, but I think I'm going to remedy that situation tomorrow.

  13. Andi - Well, at least they have the book! As wonderful and entertaining as it was, it's not one I'd read again. Personally I wouldn't spend the money on the hardcover, but that's just me. Happy reading! :)

  14. Anonymous3:10 PM

    I just had a real time reading your post. Over here from your link on Bellaza. Maybe it is the bright sun streaming in through my window.

  15. MotherPie - Thanks for stopping by. I'm a bit confused by your comment, though. Did you have a difficult time viewing my blog? Sometimes, first time readers have to wait a bit for all the pictures to load before the background switches over to tan from dark brown. Is this was happened to you?

  16. I'm not much of a horror or thriller lover Les, but there are times when I find myself craving to read something different from the usual stuff I read and what better than a nice thriller that will keep me on the edge of my seat? I will definitely have to keep "Heart-Shaped Box" in mind. BTW, am I the only one that didn't know Joe Hill was Stephen King's son?

  17. Lotus - Oh, this will certainly keep you on the edge of your seat! ;)

    I only knew that Hill was King's son because everyone at work (B&N) was talking about it when the book first came out. He certainly looks like his dad did when he was Joe's age.

  18. Oh, I want to read this so much! Got to get to it soon.

  19. Nicola - Definitely a must-read! Thanks for stopping by. I've got your blog bookmarked for further perusal.


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