It’s been a long time since I was genuinely spooked by a ghost story, but only a few chapters into Heart-Shaped Box, I actually had to set the book down and take a short break. Hill’s first novel is a doozy, a ghostly revenge story that is highly effective in the chills and thrills department, with a bit of gore and some flawed but sympathetic characters thrown in.
It’s been years since two of Jude Coyne’s band mates died and he retired from a highly successful career as a death-metal singer and role model to Goths everywhere (think Alice Cooper and biting the heads off rats). Now he lives with his two devoted dogs, personal assistant, and an ever-changing procession of much younger female companions that he flippantly refers to by the state they are from.
Jude’s a collector of the macabre, and he is bored enough that he jumps at the chance to buy a supposedly haunted suit off an Internet auction. When the suit arrives in a heart-shaped box, he figures he’s been conned and doesn’t think any more about it until strange things start happening in the house. Current girlfriend Georgia (her real name is Marybeth) finds the suit on the bed next to her, smelling of decay, and Jude begins to catch glimpses of an old man with a swinging silver razor and a mysterious purpose.
I won’t give away any more of the plot, since half the fun comes in the discovery of how Jude’s past has literally come back to haunt him. Forced to confront his childhood, 54-year-old Jude finally starts to grow up, and his relationship with his girlfriend undergoes a just touching enough turn as a result of their ordeal. Jude’s dogs stay loyal to the very end (Warning to sensitive pet-lovers: keep away if you can’t take bad things happening to animals).
Hill is the son of Stephen King, a fact he kept hidden until just before the book was released, and he has inherited King’s gift for tweaking traditional horror elements into a narrative that is impossible to put down. This book is an excellent non-stop thriller that makes the traditional ghost story scary again.