One thing I admire greatly about Joe Hill King, son of famous bestselling author Stephen King, is that he didn’t get a leg up from his father like our former President did. While I’m sure he’s had plenty of help and advice, Joe Hill has earned his own success through his writing. Having won a Bram Stoker Award for Best Fiction Collection with his first book, 20th Century Ghosts, he now returns with his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, which was naturally generating a tremendous amount of buzz before the book even came out. And the congratulatory quote on the back of the book from Neil Gaiman just made it that more popular.
Our main character, Judas Coyne, is a famous guitarist of a band that was once up there with Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, but after the sudden deaths of two band members, the guitarist is now a successful solo artist whose eccentricities range into the banal, naturally. His favorite is to collect items and trinkets of the most unusual – the weirder the better! So when Jude sees a ghost for sale on an auction site, he immediately jumps on it, chooses the “Buy it Now” option and soon has the package on its way. The single mother is very happy to get rid of the ghost of her grandfather who has been haunting her and her son for so long, and Jude now has his very own ghost.
The package arrives in a large black heart-shaped box and inside he finds an ancient but impeccable suit. Judas is impressed by it, closes the box and soon forgets about it. Then the haunting begins: strange noises and thenthey see the ghost, walking around. Then things take a turn for the worse, as the ghost comes after Judas and his friends.
Sadly, when it is revealed where this ghost has come from the story kind of goes downhill. It turns out the ghost is the deceased grandfather of the sister of a former girlfriend of Jude’s who killed herself after he dumped her. While the supernatural element of the ghost remains, and it is on their tail trying to catch them, the reasoning behind it is minor and weakens the foundation of the plot. Nevertheless there is a darkness and depth within this novel that reveals a talented writer with a bold future ahead of him. Like Carrie, this is not the best first novel, but with the talent in Hill’s genes, we know there will be many more stories for him to tell that will be great and terrifying.
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Originally written on April 8th, 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.