Heart-Shaped Box

By Joe Hill

Published by Gollancz

Readily available in paperback and Kindle

RRP £7.99 in Paperback / £4.99 Kindle

Judas “Jude” Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals, a real hangman’s noose, a snuff film. He’s an aging death-metal god and his tastes for the unnatural are well known to his legions of fans. But nothing he possesses matches his latest purchase, a dead man’s suit.

For $1,000 Judas became the owner of a suit said to be haunted by a restless spirit. But what UPS delivers to his door packed in the black heart-shaped box is no metaphorical ghost, no conversation piece. Suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere, behind the bedroom door, sitting in the passenger seat of Jude’s restored Mustang; staring out from the widescreen TV.

But the ghost has no interest in simple haunting; it has a purpose, a reason to be in Jude’s house. Everywhere Jude goes the ghost is there with a gleaming razor blade on a chain hanging from its hand.

It’s been a lot of years since I read a ghost story, I’d hazard a guess it was the early 1980s, and was probably written by Joe Hill’s father.  As I read Heart-Shaped Box I was reminded a lot of King’s early work, his attention to detail with all things every-day. Hill’s style does differ from his father’s though; the story is tighter, more compact and the suspense delivered in sharper doses.

The idea behind the story is pretty straightforward; a vengeful spirit intent on righting a wrong. But as you get into the story you realize there is more to it. The wrong the ghost is attempting to right, is not as clear cut as you at first thought; the ghost’s motivations clouded by what its sense of right and wrong was when it was alive. It is all helped by very believable characters (if a ghost can be said to be believable) that are put in a situation that, despite its supernatural element, feels very real.

Judas Coyne is every inch the aging rocker living out his semi-retirement with a string of young girls to keep his bed warm. Georgia, his latest bed warmer, is not just there as someone for the ghost to chase though, she’s a very strong character, very resourceful, obviously made from the same stuff that made Buffy Summers. Together they are thrown into a nightmare with seemingly no escape route, embarking on a harrowing road-trip not only fleeing the ghost but taking Jude into his past.

If you are a heavy metal fan you’ll love the references dotted throughout, the nods to bands great and small. If you’re a fan of good old fashioned ghost stories you’ll love the way this story is assembled, the pieces carefully crafted. Joe Hill maybe his father’s son and may share his love of rock and the macabre, but he is his own man and this tale – although echoing some of King’s earlier work – has a very distinctive voice that is Hill’s and Hill’s alone.