GOOD READS:Heart-Shaped Box

Just having finished Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box, TT HQ wanted to post about this book - its a helluva read. Fast-paced, intricate, unpredictable, and filled with well-thought out, believable characters, the book is a stunning first novel. Plus it is quite possibly one of the scariest books I have ever read.

And that's saying a lot - and not so much - all at the same time. A lot, because I read a lot of horror - anyone from Brian Lumley to Lovecraft to John Connolly and Richard Matheson. And of course, Stephen King, the master of the genre. But that's also why saying this book is horrifying shouldn't be that surprising. Because Joe Hill is really a pen name for Joseph Hill King - the elder son of the aforementioned master of horror.

Going into this book I knew that Hill was King's son, but the sale of the book to William Morrow preceded the common knowledge that Hill was really a King. Hill stuck to his pen name so that he could make it on his own; even his agent didn't know he was the heir to King when he brought the book to W/M. Having already written an award-winning collection of short stories (Twentieth Century Ghosts), Hill could have taken the easy route and revealed his literary heritage. But instead, he stuck by his guns, and like his father before him (under the pen name Richard Bachman), sold a mean little piece of fiction that is now scorching the best-sellers lists.

Box is the story of Judas Coyne, an aging heavy metal icon/rock star with a none-to-original penchant for dating girls half his age, and a rather unique hobby of collecting macabre pieces of memorabilia - like a noose used to lynch a man and a snuff film of a murder in Tijuana.

So, when Jude has the opportunity to buy a ghost through an internet eBay knock-off, he doesn't think twice about it. And when the suit that is supposedly haunted arrives, the fun (or the terror, depending on if you are a character in the book or a reader!) begins.

The scare-tactics start early in the book and flow through, non-stop, until the very last page. Jude, who starts as a fairly unlikeable character, grows on the reader throughout the book, despite revelations of some of the less than noble things he has done. It's this kind of empathy between character and reader that really allows Box to shine. The reality of Jude's character grounds the book, so that the more fantastic elements of the haunting and the reasons behind it become all that much more terrifying. The antagonists of the book truly shine - the evil inherent in the concept of the ghost story is turned on its ear with the revelations of modern horrors that created the ghosts for this story.

Chilling visual language throughout the book gives the reader a vivid picture of the action and keeps at bay the most frustrating crutch of horror-fiction: the idea that what's happening is so bizarre that not even the characters can describe it. That kind of descriptive cop-out (the "it was a blur of things so terrible, so vicious that my mind shut down" description) often takes the reader out of the moment. Hill, however, manages - in effortless fashion - to not only chronicle all of those fear-inducing moments in the book, but to make all of those descriptions absolutely compelling.

For any fan of the horror genre, this is a must read book. For those who just enjoy a good story, with well written prose and fully developed characterization, I can't recommend this book enough.

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