Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

I suppose it's fitting that I began exploring Joe Hill's work with his debut novel. I know that it is no longer a secret that he comes from a family of writers, and that his father is one of the most prolific horror writers of all time. Many would argue that his father is the most popular horror writer of all time. I am declining to opine on that front to avoid: a) the hate mail on the one end of the debate and b) the total loss of respect on the other. I am also not going to do what so many others have done and compare the father's and son's work. I'm sure it has been done to death, and bores both them and the readers at this point. I will say that it is clear that the father passed along his love not only of the horror genre, but his love of music to the son as well.

Our tale is that of an aging rock star, Judas Coin, who is fascinated with the macabre and has a unique collection of dark oddities including a witch's confession to her crimes. Jude was once married, but has had a string of young lovers since it fell apart. His current partner is Marybeth, whom he refers to as Georgia (he refers to all his girlfriends by their state of origin). His only constant companions are Danny Wooten, his personal assistant, and his German Shepherds, Bon and Angus. The adventure begins when Danny sees an online auction that he knows will interest Jude, a man's ghost and his suit.

The individual auctioning off the ghost implies that it is harmless, this turns out to be a rather large falsehood. It very quickly becomes obvious to the reader, as well as Jude and Georgia, that this ghost plans on doing more than just rattle some windows or moan in the night. Georgia is hurt almost right away, and Danny goes running for the hills as quick as can be. The situation continues to deteriorate as the story progresses.

I listened to the audiobook as I drove to and from work, Stephen Lang captured the feel perfectly. He can even do a very good southern accent, and a reasonable facsimile of a woman's voice. The production quality was quite high. I felt myself tense up for the characters, my breath shortened in anticipation and worry. I even cried in several places in sympathy for them. Joe Hill makes you wonder if there will be a happy ending, or if the story will end like Japanese stories so often do when they star an angry, hateful ghost. If you are looking for a good ghost story, I recommend you pick this one up.

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