The Barnes & Noble Review
The buzz leading up to the publication of this book included one of publishing's worst-kept secrets: Joe Hill, the author of Heart-Shaped Box, is also Stephen King's son. This revelation really wouldn't mean anything if Hill's debut novel weren't a singularly unforgettable horror masterwork that will delight and disturb anyone who reads it. The apple, it seems, doesn't fall far from the tree…
Aging, self-absorbed rock star Judas Coyne has a thing for the macabre -- his collection includes sketches from infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a trepanned skull from the 16th century, a used hangman's noose, Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, etc. -- so when his assistant tells him about a ghost for sale on an online auction site, he immediately puts in a bid and purchases it. The black, heart-shaped box that Coyne receives in the mail not only contains the suit of a dead man but also his vengeance-obsessed spirit. The ghost, it turns out, is the stepfather of a young groupie who committed suicide after the 54-year-old Coyne callously used her up and threw her away. Now, determined to kill Coyne and anyone who aids him, the merciless ghost of Craddock McDermott begins his assault on the rocker's sanity…
Regardless of Hill's literary bloodlines, the comparisons between Heart-Shaped Box and his father's works will be inevitable. Both share a narrative voice that is witty, engaging, and darkly stylish -- at once morbid, poetic, and profoundly moving. Additionally, both are masters of imagery, ambiance, and allusion. The different sections of Heart-Shaped Box, for example, all reference popular heavy metal songs (Zeppelin's "Black Dog," Nine Inch Nails' "Hurt," etc.), and Coyne's dogs are named after original AC/DC band members. Blending the wild world of rock 'n' roll with the baleful realm of the supernatural, Heart-Shaped Box marks the beginning of the literary reign of Joe Hill. All hail the new king! Paul Goat Allen
These are the bare bones of Heart-Shaped Box — literally, since the ghost is a skeletal old man. But Mr. Hill uses them to shockingly good effect, creating a wild, mesmerizing, perversely witty tale of horror. In a book much too smart to sound like the work of a neophyte, he builds character invitingly and plants an otherworldly surprise around every corner.
The New York Times
Stoker-winner Hill features a particularly merciless ghost in his powerful first novel. Middle-aged rock star Judas Coyne collects morbid curios for fun, so doesn't think twice about buying a suit advertised at an online auction site as haunted by its dead owner's ghost. Only after it arrives does Judas discover that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of one of Coyne's discarded groupies, and that the old man's ghost is a malignant spirit determined to kill Judas in revenge for his stepdaughter's suicide. Judas isn't quite the cad or Craddock the avenging angel this scenario makes them at first, but their true motivations reveal themselves only gradually in a fast-paced plot that crackles with expertly planted surprises and revelations. Hill (20th Century Ghosts) gives his characters believably complex emotional lives that help to anchor the supernatural in psychological reality and prove that (as one character observes) "horror was rooted in sympathy." His subtle and skillful treatment of horrors that could easily have exploded over the top and out of control helps make this a truly memorable debut. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
According to an October 19 USA TODAY story, Morrow picked up this first novel by a two-time Bram Stoker Award winner on its own literary merits, not knowing that Hill is the pen name of Joe King, son of Stephen. This reviewer wishes he had had the same opportunity. It's impossible to read this wrenching and effective ghost story without seeing Hill's father in it-which is not to say that it's bad. It reads like good, early King mixed with some of the edgier splatterpunk sensibilities of David J. Schow (The Kill Riff). Aging death-metal guitarist Judas Coyne, who's obsessed with the macabre, is living peacefully in upstate New York when he buys a dead man's haunted suit from an online auction site. (It arrives in a heart-shaped box.) Soon he and young Goth girlfriend Georgia are pulled into battle with the ghostly old man and their own shattered pasts. Predictable at times, the book has genuinely touching emotional moments as well as action-packed confrontations with the dead. Morrow has a huge media push behind this book, and film rights have already been sold to Warner Brothers. Recommended for all fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 10/15/06.]-Karl G. Siewert, Tulsa City-Cty. Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Hill, two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award for his short fiction, delivers a terrifyingly contemporary twist to the traditional ghost story with his first novel. Aging rock star Judas Coyne is a collector of bizarre and macabre artifacts: a used hangman's noose, a snuff film, and rare books on witchcraft. When he purchases a suit billed in an online auction as the haunted clothes of a recently deceased man, Coyne finds more than he bargained for. Everywhere he looks he sees the twisted spirit of an old and evil man following him and dangling a deadly razor on a chain. He learns that the suit belonged to Craddock McDermott, the stepfather of a former lover who committed suicide shortly after Coyne tossed her out of his life. McDermott, a professional hypnotist prior to his death, swore to destroy Coyne's rock-star life of self-indulgence to avenge her death. The behind-the-scenes look at stardom alongside the frightening pyrotechnics of McDermott's ghost will draw in teens who really enjoy a good scare. But like all good ghost stories, Hill also crafts a deftly plotted mystery as McDermott's true motivations and powers unfold. The depth of character hidden in the dark shadows of both men lifts what could otherwise be a formula supernatural thriller to an impressive debut.
Matthew L. MoffettCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A rock star buys a ghost who chases him from New York to Florida, blood spurting all the way. Jude Coyne, after a career in the darker reaches of the rock-music world, lives in upstate New York with Georgia, the latest in a succession of young pierced admirers he calls by the states of their birth. Georgia's predecessor, Florida, is at the heart of the troubles that arrive when Coyne answers an ad offering a ghost, something special to add to his collection of creepy items that includes a Mexican snuff film. The ghost inhabits a garish suit of clothes that arrives in a heart-shaped box, and the situation is a set-up. Knowing Coyne's taste for the weird, Florida's sister has inveigled him into buying the soul of her and Florida's stupendously evil stepfather, Craddock, a stinker who learned a lot of very bad magic as a soldier in Vietnam. The motive is the apparent suicide of Florida, who Coyne sent home after one too many bouts of depression. Craddock's ghost immediately gets into Coyne's head, urging him to murder Georgia and then commit suicide. Coyne resists, but the bad vibes are too much for his gay personal assistant, who flees the farm and hangs himself. Craddock persists in his attack on Coyne, using a ghostly truck as his assault vehicle. Lesser rock stars would have capitulated early on, but Georgia turns out to be full of spunk, and Coyne's German Shepherds are fierce protectors who the ghost greatly fears. To get rid of Craddock, Coyne figures he will have to go to Florida to find out just what did happen to make that ghost such an abusive spirit. Much will be made of the kinship of Hill and his superstar father, Stephen King, but Hill can stand on his own two feet. He's gothorror down pat, and his debut is hair-raising fun. Film rights to Warner Bros.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“A fast-paced journey on wheels borrowed from hell’s used-car lot, and there aren’t a lot of comfort breaks...The pictures [Hill] painted colored my dreams and darkened my mood even after I’d put the book down.”
“A relentlessly scary ghost story.”
“You can’t go wrong with Heart-Shaped Box.” Top Five Fiction-Books of 2007
Read an Excerpt
A Novel Chapter One
Jude had a private collection.
He had framed sketches of the Seven Dwarfs on the wall of his studio, in between his platinum records. John Wayne Gacy had drawn them while he was in jail and sent them to him. Gacy liked golden-age Disney almost as much as he liked molesting little kids; almost as much as he liked Jude's albums.
Jude had the skull of a peasant who had been trepanned in the sixteenth century, to let the demons out. He kept a collection of pens jammed into the hole in the center of the cranium.
He had a three-hundred-year-old confession, signed by a witch. "I did spake with a black dogge who sayd hee wouldst poison cows, drive horses mad and sicken children for me if I wouldst let him have my soule, and I sayd aye, and after did give him sucke at my breast." She was burned to death.
He had a stiff and worn noose that had been used to hang a man in England at the turn of the nineteenth century, Aleister Crowley's childhood chessboard, and a snuff film. Of all the items in Jude's collection, this last was the thing he felt most uncomfortable about possessing. It had come to him by way of a police officer, a man who had worked security at some shows in L.A. The cop had said the video was diseased. He said it with some enthusiasm. Jude had watched it and felt that he was right. It was diseased. It had also, in an indirect way, helped hasten the end of Jude's marriage. Still he held on to it.
Many of the objects in his private collection of the grotesque and the bizarre were gifts sent to him by his fans. It was rare for him to actually buy something for the collection himself. But when Danny Wooten, his personal assistant, told him there was a ghost for sale on the Internet and asked did he want to buy it, Jude didn't even need to think. It was like going out to eat, hearing the special, and deciding you wanted it without even looking at the menu. Some impulses required no consideration.
Danny's office occupied a relatively new addition, extending from the northeastern end of Jude's rambling, 110-year-old farmhouse. With its climate control, OfficeMax furniture, and coffee-and-cream industrial carpet, the office was coolly impersonal, nothing at all like the rest of the house. It might have been a dentist's waiting room, if not for the concert posters in stainless-steel frames. One of them showed a jar crammed with staring eyeballs, bloody knots of nerves dangling from the backs of them. That was for the All Eyes On You tour.
No sooner had the addition been built than Jude had come to regret it. He had not wanted to drive forty minutes from Piecliff to a rented office in Poughkeepsie to see to his business, but that would've probably been preferable to having Danny Wooten right here at the house. Here Danny and Danny's work were too close. When Jude was in the kitchen, he could hear the phones ringing in there, both of the office lines going off at once sometimes, and the sound was maddening to him. He had not recorded an album in years, had hardly worked since Jerome and Dizzy had died (and the band with them), but still the phones rang and rang. He felt crowded by the steady parade of petitioners for his time, and by the never-ending accumulation of legal and professional demands, agreements and contracts, promotions and appearances, the work of Judas Coyne Incorporated, which was never done, always ongoing. When he was home, he wanted to be himself, not a trademark.
For the most part, Danny stayed out of the rest of the house. Whatever his flaws, he was protective of Jude's private space. But Danny considered him fair game if Jude strayed into the office...something Jude did, without much pleasure, four or five times a day. Passing through the office was the fastest way to the barn and the dogs. He could've avoided Danny by going out through the front door and walking all the way around the house, but he refused to sneak around his own home just to avoid Danny Wooten.
Besides, it didn't seem possible Danny could always have something to bother him with. But he always did. And if he didn't have anything that demanded immediate attention, he wanted to talk. Danny was from Southern California originally, and there was no end to his talk. He would boast to total strangers about the benefits of wheatgrass, which included making your bowel movements as fragrant as a freshly mowed lawn. He was thirty years old but could talk skateboarding and PlayStation with the pizza-delivery kid like he was fourteen. Danny would get confessional with air-conditioner repairmen, tell them how his sister had OD'd on heroin in her teens and how as a young man he had been the one to find his mother's body after she killed herself. He was impossible to embarrass. He didn't know the meaning of shy.
Jude was coming back inside from feeding Angus and Bon and was halfway across Danny's field of fire...just beginning to think he might make it through the office unscathed...when Danny said, "Hey, Chief, check this out." Danny opened almost every demand for attention with just this line, a statement Jude had learned to dread and resent, a prelude to half an hour of wasted time, forms to fill out, faxes to look at. Then Danny told him someone was selling a ghost, and Jude forgot all about begrudging him. He walked around the desk so he could look over Danny's shoulder at his computer screen.
Danny had discovered the ghost at an online auction site, not eBay but one of the wannabes. Jude moved his gaze over the item description while Danny read aloud. Danny would've cut his food for him if Jude gave him the chance. He had a streak of subservience that Jude found, frankly, revolting in a man. Heart-Shaped Box
A Novel. Copyright © by Joe Hill. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.