Published July 27, 2008

Never heard of Joe Hill? Sure you have, you just don’t remember. I’ll refresh your memory near the end of this book review.
Heart-Shaped Box
Since it would be a crime to reveal too much about the plot of Heart-Shaped Box, I’ll let the jacket copy speak for itself:

An aging death-metal rock god, Judas Coyne is a collector of the macabre: a cookbook for cannibals … a used hangman’s noose … a snuff film. But nothing he possesses is as unlikely or dreadful as an item he learns is for sale on the Internet. For a thousand dollars, Jude will become the proud owner of a dead man’s suit, said to be haunted by the deceased’s restless spirit. Judas has spent a lifetime dealing with ghosts — of an abusive father, of the lovers he callously abandoned, of the bandmates he betrayed — so what’s one more?

But what UPS delivers to his door in a black heart-shaped box is no imaginary or metaphorical ghost, it’s the real thing. And suddenly the suit’s previous owner is everywhere — behind the bedroom door … sitting in Jude’s restored vintage Mustang … staring out from his widescreen TV — dangling a gleaming razor blade from one hand …

Simply put, this is the best debut novel I have read in years. Despite a subject matter (ghosts) that has seemingly been milked dry, this story is fresh, briskly paced (the jacket-copy all takes place in the first thirty pages), and filled with genuine shocks. Just when you KNOW you’ve got the plot pegged, Hill yanks the rug out from under you. In fact, at many points in the book, readers will surely say, This thing has got to run out of steam soon. But it doesn’t. Heartfelt and horrifying, scary and suspenseful, introspective and action packed, Heart-Shaped Box is a frighteningly fun read. Highly recommended.


Back to the question I opened with: Never heard of Joe Hill?

You saw him back in 1982 in a small-but-pivotal role in Creepshow.
Joe Hill King in Creepshow
Not ringing any bells? How about this recent photo? Look familiar?
Joe Hill King
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’ll give you one more clue: Joe Hill’s real name is Joseph Hillstrom King. His father, also an author, wrote a little book with the following dedication: This is for Joe Hill King, who shines on. The name of that book: The Shining.

Yes, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King — a fact spilled by the author himself recently. Initially wanting to succeed on his own merit, Joe could no longer deny the obvious; the resemblance and facts stated above made this a secret that could not be kept long. This debut novel, along with a collection of short stories called 20th Century Ghosts, have proved Joe is nothing if not a chip off the old block. His writing style is his own, but he has done his father’s name proud … even if he isn’t using it.

Can’t wait for more, Joe. Shine on, indeed.


WORDSLINGER’S NOTE: It was reported last year that director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview With The Vampire, The Brave One) has signed on to adapt and helm the film version of Heart-Shaped Box for Warner Brothers. There have been no further updates … but I’ll let you know when there are.