Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill

Book 47 – Warning – Slight Spoilers

I haven’t read Stephen King in years.  I gave up on him around the time of … Needful Things… and… Gerald’s Game.  The consensus of opinion in my family is that he peaked with It.  And anyway, I thought I was about done with the horror genre.  I read his wife, Tabitha’s books for years after that.  I might be able to make an argument that she is the better writer.  So Joe Hill is their kid and Heart-Shaped Box is his first full length novel.

The gist of the story is that someone lists a ghost for sale on an Internet auction site.  The ghost is attached to a man’s suit.  Send money, receive suit and custody of the ghost of the suit’s owner.  Our hero, an aging rock star named Jude, makes the purchase and we have a ghost story.  Cool.

I read the first few chapters all la-dee-dah-nice-ghost-story-idea.  Then I came to the point, which was that someone deliberately baited our hero into making this purchase so that he would be haunted by this particular spirit that wants revenge on him.

Oh.  Wait.  That’s Scary. 

The Scary builds with the idea that anyone who offers aid or comfort to our hero becomes a target.  There is also a particular dread for me because our hero has two heroic dogs and I had an extremely bad feeling that something bad would happen to them.

My friend Liza reviewed this book on LibraryThing awhile back and noted that in most ghost stories, part of the scary is that no one else knows/understands/believes what is happening.  In this case, the people that come in contact with Jude do believe and can’t help him.  That was well done.

I wasn’t entirely thrilled with the climax of the story.  It read very cinematically, but I was left thinking, “Wait.  How the hell did that happen?”  Maybe I read it too quickly.  I also wish there had been a better explanation of how and why the dead are hanging around and how/when/why they cross over.  What are the rules of that game?  Although perhaps part of the point is that Jude never really learns it, either.

Overall, I think this was well done and I am looking forward to seeing what Hill does next.

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