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Heart-Shaped Box Paperback – December 22, 2009
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Guest Reviewer: Scott Smith
In 1993, Scott Smith wowed readers with his stunning debut thriller, A Simple Plan. Thirteen years later, he spooked us again with The Ruins, a horror-thriller about four Americans traveling in Mexico who stumble across a nightmare in the jungle.
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 youll be happy you did. --Scott Smith
Guest Reviewer: Harlan Coben
Harlan Coben is the author of the beloved Myron Bolitar series about a wisecracking sports agent, as well as stunning stand-alone novels like The Innocent and his breakout thriller Tell No One. His new novel The Woods releases on April 17, 2007.
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-daughters death, which he blames on Judass 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 dont 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 wont 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
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
1. I don't normally like horror stories.
2. I don't usually like novels that have to do with the supernatural or life beyond the grave or any of that - with some notable exceptions. Many of them simply don't seem all that engrossing. Gross? Maybe. But captivating? Not usually.
But this book grabbed hold of me from the start. It could be because I've been thinking about mortality lately and so the plot (centering on life and death, love and revenge) was compelling to me. But I don't think so. I think it is truly a good book.
Judas Coyne (known simply as Jude to most) collects macabre objects, even snuff films (and yes, this is a sign that his soul is a bit awry and aching). But when he buys a dead man's suit he isn't prepared for what is coming to haunt him.
Joe Hill, the author of this novel, did such a fine job creating the atmosphere and characters in this book that I didn't want to put it down. Jude Coyne, the main guy in this one, isn't prone to staying in relationships and he can be a cold, hard man. As the book progresses, I found his evolution and development to be compelling. I was rooting for him. Would he be able to face his internal and external ghosts, past and present, and become a better person for it? I really wanted to know and I found him to be believable, however flawed (and maybe more compelling because of his flaws).
The author has a firm grasp on the art of creating cliff-hanger endings for chapters. Take this sentence: "And who knew that getting a finger blown off and losing half a pint of blood could be so good for your sense of humor?", for example.Read more ›
It's been a long time since I've enjoyed a horror/supernatural book in that way. When I saw the great reviews for Joe Hill's Heart Shaped Box, I got my hopes up and hurried to get the book in my hands. I was not in the least disappointed.
Heart Shaped Box is a bit of a horror tale, more than a hint of Southern Gothic, a road story but above all it is a tale of redemption. Judas Coyne is a heavy metal rocker who used his music to express the anger and hurt of his own abusive upbringing, and is now living in luxurious if semi-meaningless retirement. He manages his holdings, has a succession of much younger girlfriends named after states, and has a collection of oddities bought off the internet or purchased over the years. So he can't resist the opportunity to buy a real ghost, which comes attached to an old fashioned suit the ghost used to wear.
As soon as the ghost arrives, however, Judas finds there's much more at stake. He's been set up, and this ghost-or whatever it is-has a very personal vendetta with him. He and everyone close to him will die, the ghost promises.Read more ›
Heart-Shaped Box is definitely a fast paced, action packed ghost story. Hill does an excellent job in characterization. He is really masterful at making the characters and their personalities come alive as we empathize with both Coyne and MaryBeth as the tale unravels and Coyne slowly begins to understand why Craddock has come back from the dead to seek his revenge. In fact, Hill does and excellent job in conveying the personality and character of the ghost as the reader learns more about Mr. Craddock and his past. As the story develops, with wild harrowing scenes, Coyne begins to learn how he might just be able to survive this haunting. For its fast pace and excellent character development Hill definitely should be commended.
But there is a dark side. Frankly as the novel moves along it starts to read, at times, like a B grade horror movie, which for this reader was a bit of a turnoff. The later scenes get more and more sappy where Craddock started reminding me of Freddy Krueger from the movie Nightmare on Elm Street and the story really started getting rather campy. As a result, I found the novel entertaining enough, but rather average on the whole.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This was my first Joe Hill book. And I was hooked. From the people around him and the dogs, it was very captivating and had me hooked. Read morePublished 1 day ago by Eternal
Decent ghost story. A rock star buys more than he bargained for and gets himself a really vengeful poltergeist. Epic battle ensues. Who will last out? Read morePublished 5 days ago by Godzilla
This book was on the top horror list of must reads. Unfortunately for me it was too slow in which I had to almost force myself to read through. Read morePublished 5 days ago by Jeep_Girl
I was really looking for some scare! The first third of the book, kept me turning pages, the remainder of the book could have used some "umph"! Read morePublished 6 days ago by AJ1964@comcast. net
I might have picked this up because of the genetic relationship to the king of "horror" but Joe Hill stands on his own two feet with the well crafted terrifying ghost story.Published 7 days ago by Chris
Thrilling and very entertaining. An easy reading, yet hard to put down. Totally worth it.Published 11 days ago by Laura Buche
This book really grabbed me from the start. I was entertained and surprised by the unique plot twists, and original ideas.Published 13 days ago by W. Bischoff