For those of you who don’t know, Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. This was my first Joe Hill novel, and I definitely plan on reading more.
The Heart-Shaped Box follows an aging rock star, 54-year-old Judas Coyne who is a collector of macabre objects. So when he sees a notice on an auction site stating that they are selling their stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder, how could he refuse? So for a thousand dollars, Jude becomes the proud owner of the dead man’s suit, which, the ad claimed, is haunted by a spirit.
So yeah, that didn’t work out so well for him.
When it arrives, Jude and his most recent girlfriend Georgia (whose real name is Mary Beth – he always nicknames is girlfriends from the state their from: Florida, Georgia, etc.) quickly learn that this suit isn’t some relic that you can tuck on the top shelf of a closet and ignore.
Nope. This is the real deal, and they soon learn that the ghost’s name is Craddock McDermott and he isn’t only impossible to get rid of, he is vengeful and extremely dangerous — and he is scary as hell.
The ghost soon begins messing with their minds and taking over their thoughts (turns out he was a sadistic hypnotist in life) all the while bringing that gleaming razor blade that he dangles on a chain from his bony hand ever closer. I found this part especially terrifying: how in the hell can you battle a ghost that has the ability to take over and control your mind?
From this point on the story moves with a spine-tingling urgency. Jude wants the ghost gone, and the ghost wants Jude — and anyone who interferes — dead.
It’s difficult to talk too much about this type of book without giving away the story. Let me just say that pretty much each chapter is a battle for survival and this fast-paced story grows more and more intense and more and more frightening and vivid. The tension continues to escalate as there is a desperate race to somehow stop this relentless ghost before it kills both Jude and Mary Beth. This is a haunting that goes to extremes.
The Heart-Shaped Box wasn’t just a scary ghost story. It also ended by being a deep and self-revelatory story for our characters and Hill took us on an amazing ride to do so.
A word of warning — this is by no means a cute little ghost story. The novel is a gritty, dark and sinister tale of revenge from beyond the grave with some gory bits even thrown in. The characters of Jude and Marybeth were flawed, real, and relatable and Craddock….well, Craddock was utterly chilling…spine-tinglingly so. So in this way, the book was an excellent characters study as well as a frightening ghost story.
All in all, I loved this engaging book though it scared the hell out of me. It had a clever plot, gripping twists and turns, beautiful prose and the ultimate creepy villain. This is the kind of book that makes you want to keep all the lights on.