By: Carl Lyon
Judas ?Jude? Coyne is an aging metalhead who has it all: money, a huge farmhouse to enjoy his retirement in, a string of beautiful young goth girls to share his bed with, and a collection of ghoulish trinkets he?s amassed over the years. A hangman?s noose, the signed confession of an alleged witch, a Mexican snuff film, and several other macabre pieces all pale in comparison to what he?s about to purchase over the web: a ghost.
Jude?s agent finds the listing on an online auction website, posted by seemingly frightened mother, who has tired of her stepfather rattling his chains in her home and frightening her daughter. ?I told her that her grandfather wouldn?t ever hurt her, but she said she was scared of his eyes,? the auction listing describes, ?She said they were all black scribbles and weren?t for seeing anymore.? Judas puts in his bid for the old man?s suit, the physical artifact that allegedly ties the ghost to the mortal plane. A few days later, the suit arrives in a black, heart-shaped box, with the ghost in tow. Unfortunately for Jude, the ghost is not quite the nonchalant, shuffling spirit the auction listing made it out to be, but rather a very angry phantom who wishes grave harm and vengeance upon Jude and his young girlfriend Georgia.
To explain any further would require me giving away the first of many satisfying plot twists contained within the pages of Joe Hill?s debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box. While certainly rife with many familiar elements (the plot, at its core, calls to mind H.P. Lovecraft?s The Hound), Hill injects his story and its characters with a certain degree of genuine hipness and intelligence that never comes across as forced. Perhaps it?s the atypical heroes (grizzled old metal god and goth stripper girlfriend), or the simplicity with which Hill presents the situations, but I found myself more enraptured by this debut than I have by some novels written by old warhorses of the genre. The ghost himself, a man named Craddock, is one hell of a villain, especially when his background and sins are laid bare to the reader. Not satisfied with merely terrifying Jude and Georgia, he uses hypnotism, influence, and a dash of possession to try to force the couple into acts of violence against one another.
All of this is written out in Hill?s remarkably accessible, terse style, which doesn?t bog down the narrative in heavy simile or thesaurus-thumbing language. It?s quick, clean, and remarkably visual (one can certainly imagine this translating very well into film), so that there?s very little thought that the reader needs to use, they can simply let themselves go to enjoy Mr. Coyne?s Wild Ride?and what a ride it is! Hardly a chapter goes by that there isn?t a startling development, a horrific twist, or a moment where you clap your hand over your mouth to stifle a curse as Hill pulls something else out of his bag of tricks. Be it creep-out moments like Craddock threatening Jude through an old man?s electro larynx, or sly rock-n-roll references (Jude?s two dogs are named Angus and Bon?you shouldn?t have to dwell on it too much), Hill reminds us almost constantly over the 380-plus pages that he is his own man, and deserves to be acknowledged as more than just ?The Son of Stephen King.?
Keep up the good work, Joe, and I doubt that will be a problem.