I just had an "I'll be damned" moment. Not to be confused with an "oh wow" moment or an "ah-ha moment". This was bigger. Now don't judge me, because I don't get out much. But did you know that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son? And here I thought I was the world's biggest fan of Uncle Stevie, and I didn't even know his son was an author? I should be shamed.
But what was weird was that as I finished "Heart-Shaped Box", I was thinking that this story wasn't just creepy, but Stephen King creepy. Now I get it. Uncle Stevie and his spawn are drinking the same water.
Synopsis: Judas Coyne is an aging rock star who has left a trail of women in his wake, has a record of drug abuse, collects macabre artifacts, and loves a fast hot rod. (Think James Hetfield from Metallica, beard, tats and all.)
Jude is enticed to buy a ghost from an online auction website to add to his twisted little collection of things. The ghost is "attached" to an old suit, which arrives in the mail in a heart-shaped box. Jude doesn't give it much thought, until he actually sees an old man in his house, and the man begins to suggest that Jude kill his current live-in girlfriend and himself. Even more frightening, Jude finds himself wanting to obey.
After a bit of research, Jude discovers that he is being haunted by the ghost of an ex-girlfriend's step-father, who in life, was a hypnotist. The girl committed suicide, presumably because Coyne dumped her, and the dead dude has come back for some seriously sadistic revenge.
So Coyne, his girlfriend and his dogs jump in his souped-up Mustang and drive, partly to try to escape the homicidal ghost (which doesn't work of course), and partly to confront ghosts from their own past that threaten to bring them down.
My thoughts: I was practically born and raised on Uncle Stevie's brand of creepiness, so I am more than capable to deal with stories of this nature. But Hill seems to have learned from the best (and for the record, holds his own just fine), and gave the hairs on the back of my neck a run for their money.
For all of you out there that pooh-pooh anything with a little supernatural in it, trust me when I say that this is fairly hard core and the furthest thing from silly. I would be very much like pooh-poohing The Shining, which is also full of phantoms with evil intentions, and who would do that? I know I don't want the thing in room 217 to get me, thanks.
The writing itself is adequate and readable. What sets this story apart, aside from its level of sinister, are the vivid characters. Who ever writes about a protagonist like this one, really? He has your typical track record, one that makes you feel slimy, but was also sympathetic because of the abuses he suffered as a youth. And, sometimes, he actually showed signs of humanity. His girlfriend was pierced and goth, but also had her own set of baggage and I wanted the best for her. All of the characters, even the ghost, were distinct and three-dimensional.
The plot was three-dimensional as well. Hill digs into topics of sexual abuse, mental illness, and the effect these things have on a person's life. I should mention that there are some graphic language and themes, and while it is isn't gratuitous, there was enough to make my eyes pop a couple times.
Overall, a thoroughly entertaining and deliciously creepy read, and very impressive for a debut.
A few words about the audio production: The narrator for this production was Stephen Lang, who was new to me. His work seems to touch all genres, but he was cast perfectly for this particular role, and was a most excellent listen. In the wrong hands, this audio could have been an epic fail, but Lang was masterful.
4.5 out of 5 stars