Judas Coyne is an aging rock star with a taste for all things macabre. When his assistant, Danny, brings to his attention an online advertisement for “my step-father’s ghost” it’s something Judas can’t resist. The black, heart-shaped box arrives at his door, and soon he is caught up in a case of “be careful what you wish for” as there’s more to this dead man’s suit than meets the eye.
Once the ghost reveals himself, no one is safe. “Craddock” as he is known, is not your “typical” ghost. He’s angry about something, and his anger seems directed at Judas. Not only does he seem intent on making Judas suffer, but anyone connected to him as well. The isolated farmhouse becomes a trap of sorts to the people who are in it.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Joe Hill is the son of author Stephen King. Based on this book, I can say he does follow in his father’s footsteps; perhaps he’s even captured what so many people have felt was missing from some of King’s novels in recent years.
Hill doesn’t give the reader everything right from the beginning. There’s more to all of the characters – and the situation – than meets the eye. He takes his time revealing what’s beneath the surface of the situation. At first it simple seems like Judas accidentally got in over his head; as if someone unloaded their problem onto him. There’s much more to the situation.
The reader learns of Judas’ past sins (of which there are many) that have brought him to this point in life. His string of girlfriends are people he doesn’t know particularly well; he refers to them after the states they come from rather than using their given names. It’s a way to keep them at arm’s length even and they think they mean more to him. Unfortunately, his most recent lover ends up drawn into the situation through Judas’ bad choices and her undeserved loyalty to him.
If there was one sympathetic character in the whole story, it was Judas’ dogs. They seem terribly loyal to him for dogs he usually relegates to the barn. Otherwise, most of the other characters have some issues which make them less than noble. Most people aren’t all good or all bad, but I’d say the main sin here is indifference to the suffering of others around them. Indeed, it’s Judas’ indifference to the issues someone in his past had that ultimately comes back to haunt him. Danny’s indifference to Judas’ actions in the past also have a consequence for him. The dogs, however, are loyal despite experiencing that same indifference.
I found Heart-Shaped Box to be not so much creepy as thrilling. I thought Hill drew out the story nicely, although there were some things I expected early on. I really didn’t know how this was going to turn out. I didn’t burn through the story the way I have others, but I did look forward to reading it each time I had to take a break.
4 1/2 stars.