Heart-Shaped Box is the story of a middle-aged rock star called Jude Coyne. Jude has a fascination with the strange and macabre and has managed to build up quite a collection of weird artefacts which includes an authentic snuff movie, a cannibal’s cookbook and a three-hundred-year-old confession from a witch. He doesn’t own a ghost though. Not yet. So when he sees one for sale on an internet auction site he coughs up a thousand dollars and buys it straight away.
The lady who is selling this rather unique item states that the ghost is her step-father. She believes that his spirit is attached to his suit and it is the suit that she is selling. So it would seem that Jude is getting quite a bargain: buy the ghost and get the suit for free!
Jude might have paid out one thousand big ones for the haunted suit, but he does not really believe that the suit is going to be anything more than just a suit. Jude is wrong. When the suit arrives, nicely packaged in a heart-shaped box, the ghost is in there with as well, but Jude does not discover that until nightfall, when he encounters the ghost in the passage. Jude has certainly got his money’s worth, but he has bought himself a whole load of trouble because the ghost is evil and it is out to get Jude along with anyone who might try to save him.
Jude soon discovers something else: he has been set up. The seller was well aware of Jude’s strange collection and, knowing that he would not be able to resist buying her step-father’s ghost, she rigged the auction so that Jude would win.
Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s first novel and it is excellent. Ghost stories are two a penny, so they have to be something special to stand out from the crowd. This one would stand head and shoulders above the rest in most crowds. The ghost that arrived in that heart-shaped box is scary! The picture that I generated in my mind was of an entity that looked and dressed a lot like the minister from the Poltergeist II movie, but with the addition of black squiggles in his eyes. Even before he died this guy was bad news and he had some nasty abilities. In death he has retained all of those abilities, but is no longer hindered by being mortal; which is bad news for Jude, but good news for the reader because this is the bad guy from hell and the pace never once slows. Heart-Shaped Box offers nail-biting excitement from beginning to end.
Jude is an interesting character. He is a guy who started out with nothing but his determination to succeed and rocked his way to the top, despite the disadvantage of having a brutal and uncaring father that tried to hold him back. In fact, when his father deliberately broke the fingers of Jude’s chord hand, Jude strung his guitar the other way and taught himself to make the chords with his other hand instead. Like I said: determined.
Jude’s goth girlfriend Georgia is half his age and was working as a stripper when they met. Georgia is introduced to the reader in chapter two, when she walks into the kitchen, wearing only her panties and covering her pierced breasts with her arms. I expected that she would turn out to be a rather shallow character who was little more than a fashion accessory or trophy partner. Boy! I couldn’t have been more wrong. There is a lot to this girl and she really does love her man; stands by him too, even though by doing so she is placing her life in danger. Jude has rocked the world of a lot of women and probably saw Georgia, like her many predecessors, as being a temporary and throwaway item. As the story progresses though, Jude is forced to take a closer look at their relationship and at himself, but no matter how far the couple run the ghost is never far behind them and their time together may be running out.
Heart-Shaped Box is 306 pages long and I can wholeheartedly give it a big thumbs up. This is a book that should appeal to most horror readers and a lot of other readers as well, it is a great story, well told and . . . well; it rocks!