three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
28-May-June-2007
By: 
Joe Hill
user_rating: 
0

A-Heart-Shaped BoxWhen 50-something death metal rock star Jude Coyne purchases a haunted suit on an online auction site, he knows it’ll fit right in with his grotesque memorabilia (which include a used hangman’s noose). But when it arrives in a black, heart-shaped box, Jude discovers that the suit—and its vengeful spirit—belonged to Craddock McDermott, a hypnotist and the stepfather of one of Jude’s former groupies, a woman who killed herself after Jude had rejected her. Craddock starts turning up everywhere, threatening Jude and planting unhealthy ideas in his head. To escape the ghost, Jude, his feisty young girlfriend, and their two German shepherds hit the road in an old Mustang, determined to break the curse before too many people die.
William Morrow. 384 pages. $24.95. ISBN: 0061147931

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, is an unsettling ghost story that takes what could be a laughable premise and adds so many twists and shocks that readers will be white-knuckling their armchairs by novel’s end. … This debut novel is a fine mix of psychological terror and gruesome horror." Dorman T. Shindler

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"Hill rarely relies on description, using actions to develop the frequently graphic scenes. … After the first few chapters, readers won’t care who Hill’s parents are. But they will care about what happens to Jude, Georgia and those two brave dogs." Mark Graham

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Hill] holds the italics to a minimum, pulls back from the brink of hallucinatory overkill and mostly keeps this story tightly on track. Even when it erupts into strange, violent visions—as when, in the midst of a struggle to the death, light pours up from a newly opened door in the floor—this book is so visually intense that its energy never flags." Janet Maslin

Chicago Sun-Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Hill focuses on telling his story with enough energy, and by imbuing his characters with enough life, that he’s able to make us forget just how impossible the plot is. That suspension of disbelief does take Hill a while to accomplish, however, and unforgiving readers might not be willing to give him the 150 pages or so that it takes for the story to really get going." David J. Montgomery

NY Times Book Review 1.5 of 5 Stars
"By [the climax] all pretense at narrative logic or coherence has been abandoned. … Still, if this is the kind of thing you like, then you’re probably going to like this a lot." Geoff Nicholson

Critical Summary

Heart-Shaped Box raises the obvious question: Does the talent of Joe Hill (née Joseph Hillstrom King) match that of his father, Stephen King? Certainly, Hill has earned acclaim in his own right; his short-story collection 20th Century Ghosts won both the British Fantasy Award and a Bram Stoker. Critics agree that if blood, gore, and psychological terror keep you turning the pages, you’ll enjoy the novel’s murderous dreamscape and Hill’s lean, witty, and hard-hitting style. In order to buy into the story, however, you’ll first have to believe in the ghost’s powerful existence—and not all critics did. Only the New York Times Book Review completely panned the novel’s characterizations, overkill, and implausible plot. The verdict: Heart-Shaped Box is a strong walk in Hill’s father’s footsteps.