Joe Hill is the son of mega-author Stephen King. That fact has been mentioned so far in every single review I can find of the great horror novel Heart-Shaped Box. And yes, it is one of the reasons why the book came to my attention. But it completely stands on its own as a great horror story. I do have to admit that the premise at first sounded a little…weak to me, but I was very, very happy to be proven wrong.
Plot summary of Heart-Shaped Box
Picture a man named Judas Coyne. Can you guess what occupation he has? If you guessed brooding metal rock star, then it probably wasn’t a guess–you’ve probably already read the book. But that’s his name. Judas isn’t entirely thrilled with his fame. The endless cycle of shows, road trips, young girlfriends, and so on…what’s an increasingly disillusioned rocker to do to keep himself entertained?
Simple: collect weird stuff. Focus on the occult and the supernatural. Surf eBay and buy ghosts. No, seriously, that is the pivotal event that sets Heart-Shaped Box in motion. He wins an auction after placing the winning bid on a ghost. That’s the part that sounded a little weak to me, although I’ve no doubt that thousands of stupider things are currently on sale on eBay.
More specifically, Judas has purchased a suit that is haunted by the ghost of its original owner. As it turns out, the guy who was originally walking around in the suit was a very nasty character. And as if that wasn’t enough, Judas has been set up. I won’t spoil the plot, but he was meant to have the suit.
The owner of the suit–or his ghost, rather–quickly begins to make life very difficult. In fact, he is determined that Judas and everyone he loves will die terrible deaths. What’s Judas to do? Well, of course he needs to take to the road, fight the trip, round up a couple of companions, and serve as a quite-interesting protagonist in a great debut novel from Joe Hill.
Is it silly? Yes, but I don’t read scary stories for the realism. I read them because they’re fun. Once a book can grab me and propel me into the story, I don’t care if they’re not realistic. It’s usually better for me if they aren’t.
For anyone who has read Joe Hill’s debut and is wondering if he’s done anything else, his next novel, Horns, is out and is also a lot of fun.
And of course, like son, like father. If you’re a fan of Joe, I would take a look at this Stephen King bibliography I wrote up and start checking them off.
And if you’d like to start right away with a great Stephen King book, I’d recommend The Stand review I wrote recently and jump right in.