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.
Heart-Shaped Box was a book I bought years ago, purely because it shares its name with a Nirvana song. Yes, it really is that easy to get me to buy your novel!
It’s a ghost story with a modern twist. No old-timey haunted house here, just a genuinely creepy malevolent spirit that follows the protagonist wherever he goes. There’s possession, ouija boards, a haunted suit and mirrors that show spooky shit.
Joe Hill throws all the unrealistic-and-yet-totally-possible fears that people experience and makes them so evocative it’s chilling. You know when you’re in a dark room in your house and get the momentary panic that you’re going to see something awful? The trepidation you get, and the sick feeling of dread when you step in? Or the fear when you hear radio static that a dreadful voice is going to emerge above the noise?
I went downstairs at midnight to turn my central heating off and loudly sand “If You’re Happy And You Know It” the whole way.
Heart-Shaped Box kicks into high gear at around page 20 and never really puts you down again. It’s absolutely breakneck, atmospheric, dark, grim, heartbreaking, witty, and genuinely incredibly creepy from beginning to end. If you like horror and rock music and thrills, here’s the book for you. Happy Halloween!
CW for Heart-Shaped Box: child abuse, sexual abuse, suicide, mental illness. Also the dog dies.