Friday, April 20, 2007

"Heart-Shaped Box" by Joe Hill

I was anxious to read this book as soon as the reviews started popping up; critics were giving it some fairly high praise, and the story just sounded pretty good. Then the real kicker - turns out that Joe Hill is really Joe King, as in Stephen King. Yep, this is the King of Horror's kid. Well, that put a new spin on things. Did I still want to read it? Would I find myself constantly comparing it to his dad's works? Would I be disappointed?

Rest easy, readers. The answers were yes, sometimes, and no. The influence of his famous father is there, but it in no way overshadows or detracts from the story. Joe is a great writer, one that his dad I'm sure is proud of.

The story seems simple enough. Judas Coyne, semi-retired rock star, has always collected some weird stuff, partly out of his own interest, partly to uphold his image of a "goth/rock" god. His assistant tells him about an email that comes in, one offering the sale of a ghost. Seems this woman's stepfather died and now he's haunting their house, particularly her daughter, and so she's hoping that by "selling" his spirit, she'll rid her family of his presence. Not wanting anyone to think she's totally crazy, she goes on to say that she will send one of the old man's suits, so that the buyer actually gets something for their money, even if the spirit decides to stay with her family. But she's pretty sure he'll go with the suit. Jude jumps on the offer, then forgets all about it.

Until he receives a package one day. It's a heart-shaped box that chocolates come in, the cheap ones you can pick up at a drugstore. The exact sort of box that his old man used to give his mother twice a year. When he opens the box, though, there's no candy, just an old, dark suit. Then it hits him - this is the "ghost" that he bought. He quickly realizes that there really is a spirit too; he sees him sitting in a chair that very night. And there's something incredibly sinister about this spirit, something evil, something that knows who Jude is and what he's done.

This is where the story really takes off. For Jude has not bought just any ghost, he's the proud owner of a spirit bent on revenge. Craddock, the old man, was the stepfather of one of Jude's many groupies, young women who he usually takes up with for a few months to up to a year, usually never longer. Anna, aka "Florida", was his previous girlfriend, one he sent home after she slipped back into one of her depressive phases. Turns out she killed herself soon after, and her family blames him for her death. Sounds simple, right? Well, it's not, and that's the beauty of this book - it'll keep you guessing until the end.

Jude's history and that of his current girlfriend, Marybeth, aka "Georgia", play a big role in the developments of the story. So does the history of the ex-girlfriend, as well. Jude isn't as much of a jerk as he seems at the outset, nor is Craddock a simple avenging spirit. There are secrets to be revealed and obstacles to overcome, and the whole thing is a great big wonderful ride. There are several references to current "alternative" rock songs and groups, as well as some classic rock (probably hard not to go there, seeing as how Big Steve is also a rock 'n' roll groupie!) There are great visual images of the road-trip that Jude and Marybeth take in their attempt to escape Craddock. Yes, there's the supernatural side of the story, but there's also the personal side, too, and Hill does a great job of developing his characters, enough that you're hoping they'll make it in the end, flipping pages faster and faster to find out. I'll admit - I really, really, wanted to flip to the end to be sure it would all be OK, but as Big Steve himself has said, there's a special place in hell reserved for those that read the end of the book before they get there. Have to agree with him on that one! Why read the whole thing if you've already peeked at the ending?

In summary, the book was great. Joe is going to follow in his father's footsteps, and I for one couldn't be happier about it. But Joe is not going to be his dad, and that's the best news of all - a great new writer in a much-loved genre. Check out "Heart-Shaped Box" today.

No comments: