Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (2007, William Morrow & Company)
For those not in the know, Joe Hill is the nom de plume of Joseph Hillstrom King, son of Stephen King. With parentage like that, it's impossible not to compare the works of father and son. While fully rooted in the genre of horror, however, Heart-Shaped Box is not your father's (or his father's, for that matter) ghost story.
Ex-heavy metal rocker Jude Coyne has spent his years of retirement at his old farmhouse with a rotating cast of goth-girl groupies. A collector of the macabre, he happens across an online auction for a dead man's suit, complete with haunting spirit. With money as no objective, Jude purchases the suit, and in short order finds the dead, as well as his own past, catching up with him.
Hill's first novel is hip and modern, and owes more to Japanese-inspired horror films like The Ring and The Grudge than the more traditional American horror story. The ghosts in Heart-Shaped Box are subtle and invasive, and it's sometimes hard to figure out where the supernatural ends and the psychological begins. The book is highly cinematic, and I would be quite surprised if I didn't see this story make its way to the big screen in the next couple of years.
While Heart-Shaped Box is a great read, it is still Hill's debut novel, and sometimes it shows through. While the plot and action are excellently-paced, the characterization sometimes suffers, particularly when it comes to Jude Coyne. Jude's age only seems to give him problems when it's immediately important. One moment, he might be bounding up stairs without a thought while the next he is bemoaning his aging joints. Also of peculiar note for me was Jude's beard. I was almost a third of the way through the book before it was mentioned that the main character possessed a rather long beard. This was somewhat jarring, as I had not pictured him that way. It seems like something that would have been rather easily remedied early in the book.
All in all, though, Heart-Shaped Box is an addictive read, and Joe Hill is definitely an author to watch.
Rating: 3 Stars