Horror in a 'Heart Shaped Box'
This is a review of a rather unorthodox ghost story, the haunting debut novel of Joe Hill, and one which has remained with me long after I put it down.
As an avid reader, I can easily go through three or four books a week, particularly during the summer months, and this particular book came into my possession as an impulse buy at my local second hand market. I had never heard of the author, or the title before, however while the brief synopsis on the back cover gave little away, the contrasts between the basic plot and the seemingly innocuous title—Heart Shaped Box—was enough to get my attention to give Joe Hill's debut novel a try.
Unlike most heroes in these kind of novels, the obnoxious main character Judas Coyne did very little to compel from the opening pages, but I read on regardless to see how this rather two dimensional stereotype would merge into the story as it unfolded.
However in Hill's defense at this point, there was definitely something real and familiar about this aging retired rock star with too much time and money on his hands, and of course that compulsory accessory, the much younger stick insect type groupie girlfriend. The latest of which, is one of a long line of similarly nameless girls that Judas calls by the state they originate from, e.g. Georgia, Florida etc., instead of by their given birth names, which gives further insight into the character, or lack of it in our leading man.
Coyne's only redeeming feature in the early chapters is his unusual interest in the macabre, and his related collection of bizarre and weird items, which include a cook book for cannibals, a genuine snuff move, a used hangman’s noose, and many other equally tasteless artifacts. This unusual interest has been well documented throughout his career, even adding to the darkness of the whole heavy rock god persona he has projected over the years, so when his secretary receives notification of "a genuine ghost for sale" our anti-hero doesn't think twice about adding it to is collection. Of course as the highest bidder, and for the princely sum of one thousand dollars Jude soon welcomes the delivery—a dead man's suit in a heart shaped box—of this latest addition to add to his collection without a second thought, never mind any doubts or fears.
You see Jude has many skeletons in his own cupboard, haunted by memories of bad decisions and choices he has made over the years, so why should this be any different? It is at this point that the novel darkens slightly, and gradually the tone of the story grows chillier over the next few chapters, although seemingly heading in a somewhat predictable direction, and without our "hero," or his young girlfriend appearing in a more likable light.
Hill does, however, succeed in transporting you from the comfort of your armchair into the menacing atmosphere growing in his story in the space of a few paragraphs, so that you are right there walking the dark corridors of Jude's home, peering tentatively into the shadows, as his unease increases. This first part of the novel climaxes in an unexpected smorgasbord of good versus evil, light versus darkness, horror and fantasy before our hero flees into the night to start his journey of redemption and self discovery to uncover the truth behind his latest purchase, which has come straight from Hell in search of a very personal revenge from Jude himself.
It would be sacrilegious to give away any other details of the story, as it is best revealed bit by bit, as if you are in the characters' shoes, as they go on their journey seeking answers. In fact, this author pulls you so far in to his story that you feel as if you are on your own voyage of discovery, and every time you think you are starting to get it, he takes you in a completely unexpected direction yet again. Even the characters develop into three dimensional people, with flaws and faults galore. In fact it is the same undesirable human traits, which initially alienated us from the hero and his companion that eventually makes it impossible to be anything but fully by their sides, as they battle the horror of what is unfolding.
With so many twists and turns, subtle chills, and spine tingling horror, this very original idea builds up to a truly frightening finale that will have you looking under the beds, and jumping at your own shadow long after you have finished the last page.
There were times when I actually felt like I was in the story, and other times where the descriptive prose, which produced such a realistic threat of menace, made it seem more like watching a movie than reading a book. My emotions ranged from nerves and fear, hope and happiness, right through to terror, and even tears.
I can highly recommend this very entertaining read, however far fetched the plot may appear at times, it is certainly one of, if not the most, memorable read I have had in recent years. I hope Joe Hill's future novels continue to deliver the same rollercoaster ride as the hypnotic storytelling he has produced in Heart Shaped Box.
Author Bio—Becky Jimenes is a teacher, and freelance writer at science term paper service. She grew up in Orlando, Florida.