If you are a certain age, you will know doubt conjure up images of Nirvana in your mind upon hearing of a heart-shaped box. This is not a story about Kurt Cobain, but it just might be nirvana to the horror fiction enthusiast. Heart-Shaped Box is the debut novel from Joe Hill – yes, he’s Stephen King’s son – about an aging rock star named Judas Coyne, who has a collection of macabre mementos including drawings by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a 16th-century skull he keeps pens in, and a snuff film that He adds another object to his collection when he purchases a haunted suit via the Internet for one thousand dollars. The black suit arrives neatly folded in a heart-shaped box (hence the book’s title). Along with it is the ghost of Craddock McDermott, who happens to be the stepfather of a groupie who committed suicide after Judas used her and threw her aside.
Boiled down to its essence, Heart-Shaped Box is a step above the usual ghost story in that it forces its protagonist to face his own ghosts. Regardless of his literary lineage, the comparisons between Joe Hill and his father’s work are inevitable. Does the apple fall far from the tree? Maybe yes; maybe no. If you go in unbiased, you might be treated to a decent first novel. If you’re a die-hard Stephen King fan, you’re more apt to like horror fiction, thus more apt to read Joe Hill’s ghost story. Well-written and filled with a ton of rock music references (everything from Sabbath to Zeppelin to Nine Inch Nails) Heart-Shaped Box opens a little on the slow side but picks up steam as the chapters fly by. Narrator Stephen Lang does an excellent job in his performance, giving life to all of Hill’s characters. Overall, Heart-Shaped Box is a solid debut from Joe Hill.