Thursday, March 31, 2011

Heart-Shaped Box / by Joe Hill

Judas "Jude" Coyne lives on a farm in an especially isolated part of upstate New York where to pass the time he collects various macabre paraphenelia. An actual noose from a 19th century hanging, witch confessionals, a cookbook for cannibals, books of spells and many other assorted knick-knacks offer the aging death-metal rocker (a musician successful enough to afford said items) an interesting hobby, and a personal side-item his cult of goth fans seem to like. He doesn't believe in any of it of course. It's just good publicity.

But then he finds something really unique. Nothing in his current collection seems as odd and off-the-wall as his latest discovery--a ghost for sale on the Internet. It's such an odd proposition and a genuinely candid advert that Jude can't help but outbid everyone for the chance to own the ghost of a recently deceased man from Florida. For a thousand dollars, Jude becomes the proud owner of a dead man's suit fitted within a heart-shaped box, delivered only hours after the purchase is made. Jude isn't concerned. He's spent a lifetime coping with a brutally harsh childhood where memories and personal demons of an abusive father, a man he hasn't seen for 20 years who now lies on his deathbed in Louisiana. Also haunting him are the metaphorical ghosts of lovers and old girlfriends he's deliberately hurt and abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed and the remaining family members he's cut ties with. But what happens when those supposedly 'dead' memories start paying visits?

Stephen King's second son Joe Hill (pen name for Joseph King) has his father's eye for the macabre and his own talent to boot him instantly into the upper echelon of horror fiction writers. Heart-shaped Box is a chilling, intense book reverberating at different levels, taking the reader on a journey of love, hate and despair, subtly displaying how memories can be distorted, burdens can be shared and how, sometimes, the dead really do tell their own tales. What's more, it manages to thread the needle of terror and the paranormal through the reality hole and make what's happening seem perfectly believable. (FIC HILL)

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