Review: Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill

 

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Publisher: Gollancz

 

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Synopsis:

Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre — his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman’s noose, Aleister Crowley’s childhood chessboard, etc. — so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it.

The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker’s sanity.


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This book was recommended to me by one of my  Twitter followers after a plea for a decent horror book, this has taught me that I can trust the advice of strangers.

The story starts out in a fairly formulaic way for a ghost story, but about midway through Hill really comes into his own and takes it in an original direction. I absolutely loved the tension, the creepiness and the nice mix of supernatural horror and good old fashioned real-life nastiness of human nature.

His language is deliciously compelling, once you’re in- you’re in! He has a remarkable gift for storytelling though I felt like his development of the female characters did leave a teeny bit to desired but only in comparison to the multidimensional male characters, I get the feeling this could also be because the main character was a man with limited understanding of the complexity of women. I’ll be checking out some more of his work in the future to see if my theory is correct on that one …

The main character is a retired but successful rockstar who likes bedding younger women but keeping them at an emotional arm’s length, the women are usually gothy groupies with deepseated issues- this is all well and good, even makes sense, but I find it a little bit odd that when it all hits the fan, the girlfriend character simultaneously comes into her own strength and doesn’t tell him to go take a running jump, to get herself out of harm’s way. There are explanations I could accept for this, but the author didn’t really elaborate.

The horror part was wonderful and the ghost was very creepy in a traditional way, without being too cliched. The ghost flickered in and out of existence which is a great image if you’ve ODd on Supernatural episodes and horror films like I have, he even has horrible black scribbles blotting out his eyes that I felt was a nice touch.

The ending of this book was a little unsatisfying if you’re a bit of a sadist (like me) because it all ended up ‘ice cream’ as my friend would put it- as in, all the loose ends have been tied up and everyone lives happily ever after and goes out for ice cream. Once I figure out that all the characters are going to be ok, I find a lot of the dramatic tension leaks away but this story was wonderful in that you couldn’t be sure until quite late on in the book.

All in all, I adored this book- it was very easy to get into and had some unexpected twists and turns in a very old and cliched genre. I would definitely recommend this to any horror and ghost story lovers out there.

‘He was happy only to know about her what she wanted him to know- was something more like a selfishness. A childish willingness to remain in the dark, to avoid distressing conversations’ –  Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill

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