Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Pub. Date: December 22nd, 2009
Pages: 384

Genre: Fiction / Thriller / Paranormal Suspense / Horror


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.

“Wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty….A Valentine from hell.”—Janet Maslin, New York Times

What Did I Think About the Story?

After listening to the audiobook version of Joe Hill's graphic novel Locke and Key - which I still consider the best audiobook I've ever listened to (see my review) - I went out and bought all of his novels. At that point they all sat on either my Kindle or my physical shelves waiting to be read, like so many others. Every time I mentioned wanting to read a scary story my boss raved about Heart-Shaped Box. She brought it up every...single...time! Finally, I decided it was time to give it a shot. I was in the mood for something scary and this fit the bill after all. I am now kicking myself for waiting so long! Not only is this story terrifying, especially in the beginning, but it ended up being so much deeper than I expected.

From the very beginning there is a "bump in the night" kind of creepiness that sets in, making this reader feel incredibly unsettled (which is great when reading a scary story!). As the synopsis states, Judas Coyne receives a ghost attached to an old man's suit that he purchased online, a ghost that it turns out has a personal vendetta against Judas. And boy oh boy does he start terrorizing Judas and his girlfriend, Georgia (real name Marybeth), from the moment that box arrives. As Craddock, the ghost, starts popping up around Judas's house he doesn't just stand around spooking people, no. He starts taking over their minds (turns out Craddock was a sadistic hypnotist when he was alive), herky-jerky moving around the house, whispering in ears and trying to get Judas and the people around him to either kill themselves or kill Judas. This in particular I found terrifying because how do you stop a ghost, who has this particular ability, from taking over your mind? And when Judas starts hearing horrible things - including dead people! - on the phone and through the radio I nearly jumped out of my skin!

Once Judas determines he is going to go on a road trip to confront the woman who sold him the ghost the scope and depth of the story builds. The actual race to find a way to stop this ghost before death literally catches up to them allows the tension to get tighter and tighter. Beyond that, Judas's reevaluation of his life and what he has done in his past makes this become a redemption story, one about a  man facing all the bad things he's done in his past and forgiving himself for these past mistakes (figuratively putting his ghosts to rest) in order to try and move on and have a better life....if he can survive, that is. On top of this there's even a love story component - if an unusual one - and I was really happy to see a true building and acknowledgement of affection between Judas and Marybeth. I'm not going to give anything away about the ending, but I will say I would never have thought of the story ending that way.

Heart-Shaped Box has just about every component I can think of wrapped up in one thrilling package, something I didn't expect at all and which I absolutely loved! There's definitely scares and grit and gore, but there's so  much more than that. I am now a forever fan of Joe Hill and cannot wait to read his other novels! 

What Did I Think About the Cover?

It's not a favorite cover but, after reading the story, it does fit what is going on. Craddock talks throughout the story about taking Judas down a road that would clearly lead to hell and, in one insanely creepy part, someone - who happens to be dead, mind you - calls Judas to say he's stuck on the side of the road and could he come and help him. Judas also physically goes on a road trip to try and stop Craddock and, metaphorically, he also has to travel down the road of self awareness and forgiveness before the story ends. So lots of roads this could represent!

My Rating: 4.5/5.0

I purchased a copy of Heart-Shaped Box for my own library. All opinions are mine alone. You can find more information about the book, including other reviews and links to where you can purchase a copy, on Goodreads HERE.

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