Heart-Shaped Box: A Novel
Aging, self-absorbed, death-metal rock star Judas Coyne was a collector. He collects the bizarre, the uncanny, and the grotesque. Many of these objects were gifts from the black-clad fans that made his metal band a legend and made him rich. But not all…When his personal assistant told him there was a ghost for sale on the Internet, Jude knew he had to have it for his private collection, didn t think twice. He should have. Jude has spent a lifetime evading ghosts of an abusive father, of the band mates he betrayed, of Anna, the suicidal girl he loved and abandoned. But this spirit is different. This one means to chase him to the edge of sanity. His new acquisition delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box is the restless soul of Anna s vengeful step daddy. Craddock McDermott swore he would settle with Jude for ruining his daughter s life. Soon, everywhere Jude turns, Craddock is there: behind the bedroom door; in Jude s restored vintage Mustang; outside his window; on his widescreen TV. Waiting with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand.
Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals…a used hangman’s noose…a snuff film. An aging death-metal rock god, his taste for the unnatural is as widely known to his legions of fans as the notorious excesses of his youth. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or as dreadful as his latest discovery, an item for sale on the Internet, a thing so terribly strange, Jude can’t help but reach for his wallet.
I will “sell” my stepfather’s ghost to the highest bidder….
For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by a restless spirit. He isn’t afraid. He has spent a lifetime coping with ghosts—of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed. What’s one more?
But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, no benign conversation piece. It’s the real thing.
And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere: behind the bedroom door…seated in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang…standing outside his window…staring out from his widescreen TV. Waiting—with a gleaming razor blade on a chain dangling from one bony hand….
A multiple-award winner for his short fiction, author Joe Hill immediately vaults into the top echelon of dark fantasists with a blood-chilling roller-coaster ride of a novel, a masterwork brimming with relentless thrills and acid terror.
Do you sleep with the light on? Are you in the habit of checking your doors and windows before you go to bed? Maybe even checking under your bed? If you are about to crack open Joe Hill’s chilling thriller Heart-Shaped Box, you might want to rethink your nighttime habits—Hill’s story about an aging rock star (with a penchant for macabre artifacts) who buys a haunted suit online will scare you silly. But don’t take our word for it. We asked bestselling authors (and masters of dark terror tales themselves) Scott Smith, and Harlan Coben to read Heart-Shaped Box and give us their take. Check out their reviews below, and you might want to pick up a nightlight while you’re at it. —Daphne Durham
The set-up for Joe Hill’s novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is appealingly simple. Jude Coyne, an aging rock star, buys himself a dead man’s suit. He acquires it online, lured by the promise that the dead man’s ghost will be included in his purchase. Jude thinks this is a joke, of course. He also assumes the seller is a stranger. We soon discover that he’s wrong on both counts, however, and from this point on the story moves with an exhilarating urgency. Jude wants the ghost gone; the ghost wants Jude dead. We watch, chapter-by-chapter, as they battle for survival. “Watch” is the appropriate word, too, because this is an extremely visual book. Hill’s prose is lean and precise, and he renders Jude’s world with impressive confidence. It feels solid, every detail both correct and fresh. And this physicality provides a firm platform for the book’s otherworldly happenings, which seem all the more frightening for being so securely grounded.
Hill has a flawless sense of pacing. His narrative never flags, nor does it ever move so quickly as to outrun itself. And one can sense his literary ambition pushing at the margins of the genre. There are times when his writing, for all its spare efficiency, seems to jump away from him, stopping one small step short of poetry. An e-mail to Jude from the ghost (trust me, it’s not as absurd as it sounds) could even pass for something ee cummings might’ve written, in an especially morbid mood. And toward the end of the book, when Hill describes a trip down death’s “night road” in a ’65 Mustang, the passage has a startlingly lyrical beauty.
The story’s horror ultimately has as much to do with Jude Coyne’s past—his mistakes, abandonments and betrayals—as with anything supernatural. Jude has caused a lot of pain over the years, moving through life with a carelessness that verges on the callous. His battle with the ghost brings this behavior into sharp relief, forcing him to reflect upon his own capacity for cruelty. This dawning self-awareness leavens the book’s bleakness and gore (and it is delightfully gory in places) with an unexpected sweetness. Despite our initial impression, Jude is gradually revealed—both to himself and the reader—as an essentially decent, even kind man. It’s this kindness, this fledgling ability to love and be loved, that will ultimately be of crucial consequence in his death struggle with the ghost. And it’s what makes Hill’s debut not only well-written and terrifying, but also—as it draws to its close—surprisingly moving. So go ahead, take a chance, and open his Heart-Shaped Box. I think you’ll be happy you did. —Scott Smith
You, dear reader, are obviously somewhat versed in making online purchases, so today, immediately after you click on the yellow “Add to Shopping Cart” on the top right hand corner of this page, why not do an online search and buy something totally unique?
Like, say, a vengeful ghost.
That is what rock-star Judas Coyne does, thinking it will be a laugh, fun for his “sick-o” collection of such things. It seems a random buy, but Judas soon learns that it is anything but. This particular ghost is one Craddock McDermott, step-father to recent suicide victim and boy, is he cranky. He demands revenge for his step-daughter’s death, which he blames on Judas’s shabby treatment of her.
Or is he after something else?
There are Amazon readers who will give you a better plot summary. Don’t read them too closely because Joe Hill provides plenty of fun surprises. Heart-Shaped Box is a true spine-tingler. I don’t use that hyphenated word much anymore. We have seen and read it all, haven’t we? But right away, in the first chapter, there was a subtle line that made the hairs on the back of my neck go up in a way I haven’t experienced since I first discovered great horror as a teenager.
Hill writes with a sure hand. The prose is compelling. Like most memorable tales of horror, this book is more about redemption than scary moments—though Heart-Shaped Box has plenty of scares. They are visceral, shocking and very well done. The characters are flawed and real. The father-son relationship adds texture and surprising poignancy.
So here’s the thing. My guess is, you won’t find a ghost to buy online, but if you read the Heart-Shaped Box, you will be getting something that will haunt you and startle you and stay with you and yes, visit you in your dreams.
Sleep well, dear reader. —Harlan Coben
Barnes and Noble
The buzz leading up to the publication of this book included one of publishing’s worst-kept secrets: Joe Hill, the author of Heart-Shaped Box, is also Stephen King’s son. This revelation really wouldn’t mean anything if Hill’s debut novel weren’t a singularly unforgettable horror masterwork that will delight and disturb anyone who reads it. The apple, it seems, doesn’t fall far from the tree
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
Regardless of Hill’s literary bloodlines, the comparisons between Heart-Shaped Box and his father’s works will be inevitable. Both share a narrative voice that is witty, engaging, and darkly stylish—at once morbid, poetic, and profoundly moving. Additionally, both are masters of imagery, ambiance, and allusion. The different sections of Heart-Shaped Box, for example, all reference popular heavy metal songs (Zeppelin’s “Black Dog,” Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt,” etc.), and Coyne’s dogs are named after original AC/DC band members. Blending the wild world of rock ‘n’ roll with the baleful realm of the supernatural, Heart-Shaped Box marks the beginning of the literary reign of Joe Hill. All hail the new king! Paul Goat Allen