An aging rock star buys an old suit that brings with it a vengeful spirit with a personal vendetta.
Let’s just get it out of the way. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. His debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is a work of horror. And not only is it damn good, it’s good enough to stand on its own.
Hill has crafted a simple, elegant, scary little story that manages to delve deep into the nature of regret and repentance. The spectral figure who haunts Judas Coyne is a terrifying creation from the outset, yet as the story progresses it’s Judas’s inner demons who prove to be most menacing. That makes the book sound pat, glibly matching metaphor to meaning, but that simplicity is the key to the power of the book. By keeping things clean, Hill gives himself a lot of room to explore all kinds of complex emotions, and he manages to do so without sacrificing the relentless forward motion of the horror plot.
More than anything, however, I was taken by the love story. I don’t expect romance from books like these, not the real kind, anyway. So I was surprised to find myself captivated by the relationship between Judas and the ex-stripper he calls Georgia. As the story begins, he’s tired of her, doing all sorts of passive aggressive things to make her leave him. Of course she won’t–and of course this is a worn out story. I would’ve forgiven Hill for leaving it at that, so when he started to tease out an evolution in their relationship I got really excited, and ultimately bought the love story whole. What an unexpected treat.