Fiction Reviews

Heart-Shaped Box

(2007) Joe Hill, Gollancz, 9.99, hrdbk, 311pp, ISBN 978-0-575-0-7912-0


Judas Coyne is a semi-retired death-metal rock-god already haunted by his past: the memory of an abusive father, the passing of old band members, and the apparent suicide of a girl he loved and left behind. So, when he discovers a ghost for sale on the internet, it seems only natural to bid for it to add to his collection of bizarre and macabre memorabilia. His bid is successful and, when the ghost arrives, it is in the form of an old suit contained in a heart-shaped box. But the ghost turns out to be all too terrifyingly real, threatening friends and staff and pets, eventually driving Judas from his home on a quest to find the source of the ghost and return it to its original owner. The only problem will be staying alive long enough to do so...

This is the debut novel from Joe Hill who, I had to be told, is Stephen King's son. The only reason I mention it is that, with admirable restraint, the publishers have not unduely tried to 'cash-in' on that connection, other than a brief back cover mention that this book might appeal to fans of King (and Michael Connelly and Jeff Lindsay). It is a very readable book, without being overly 'pacey', which is to say that though the reader is not being driven from set piece to set piece with scant attention to plot or character (as is the case with some horror offerings) the book does proceed with a kind of inexorable logic as various courses of action are denied to Judas Coyne. It is also, relatively speaking, a short book (considering how nearly everything written these days seems to tend to around 500 pages!), but still contains a full, rounded story-with-back-story. I doubt I'd go as far as Neil Gaiman's back-cover blurb (he "loved it unreservedly"), but I would certainly recommend it as a creditable debut.

Tony Chester

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