heart shaped boxJoe Hill

An aging death metal rock god, Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film.  But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as an item he learns is for sale on the Internet.  For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by the deceased’s restless spirit.  Judas has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts – of an abusive father, of lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed – so what’s one more?  But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, 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…staring out from his widescreen TV – dangling a gleaming razor blade on a chain from one hand…

Heart Shaped Box was the first book that I read by the author Joe Hill, and was the one that had me hooked on his work within the first few chapters of reading this. It’s an American Gothic style horror story that relies on atmosphere and mystery, building up the story in a way that gives it a weight that’s rather palpable.

The story involves an aging death metal performer (who I, for some reason, always pictured as Nathan Explosion from Metalocolypse…only with a beard) named Judas (“Jude” for short) with some…personal issues, let’s just say, purchasing a bit of morbid memorabilia by way of an actual ghost that haunts a suit inside the titular heart-shaped box. Only, this ghost turns out to be real, and almost immediately starts haunting Jude and his girlfriend, messing with their heads, causing them to harm themselves unwittingly. To stop the madness, they set off to find out the mystery behind the creepy ghost that now constantly haunts them, which leads to a rather shocking conclusion that involves…well, it’ll make your skin crawl, trust me.

Had I not known this was Joe Hill’s first full novel, I would have sworn that this was the end result of decades of writing other novels, honing things to a sharp edge. Heart Shaped Box is a very engaging ghost story, in the tradition of M. R. James, or Peter Straub for a more modern comparison. I recommend picking this up (and all other Joe Hill novels, for that matter).