Oct 14, 2007

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box is the story of Judas Coyne, a semi-reformed rock star in his fifties who collects occult and macabre artefacts. His collection includes things like a snuff film, sketches by John Wayne Gacy, a cannibal cookbook, or a three-hundred year old witch confession. One day, his assistant calls his attention to a very unusual internet auction: someone is trying to sell the ghost of their recently deceased step-father. Judas cannot resist buying it, and a few days later he receives the dead man’s suit inside a heart-shaped box. Soon enough, he realizes that the ghost will be more than just an addition to his collection, and that there’s more to the old man’s story than he had imagined.

This is a weak plot summary, I know, but saying any more would be giving too much away. This is a story in which secrets are gradually revealed, and I found myself turning the pages avidly to find out what was going to happen next.

I don’t have much experience with horror novels, but I do know that it takes a lot to scare me. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t exactly find this book scary. I did find it unsettling, though, and not because of the ghosts. This is a story that shows that men are much more fearsome than ghosts. It is a ghost story that is more about people than supernatural events. Not that ghosts don’t play a key role in it, but… at its core, this is a story about people’s secrets, about their hidden pains and private hells, about how they struggle to deal with them, and about the toll they can take on their lives.

It was for these reasons, because of the book’s emotional content, that I liked it so much. Judas Coyne is not exactly a nice person, but over the course of the book I grew to care for him, to understand the workings of his mind, and to fear for his safety and the safety of those he loved.

I also very much liked the book’s southern Gothic atmosphere, and other things about it, like the role that Judas Coyne’s dogs played in the story. I always liked the concept of the animal familiar, and in this story it was used very interestingly.

Heart-Shaped Box is a book in which nothing is as it seems. It’s a book in which things slowly fit together to form a picture more scary than you could imagine – and scary in different ways, too. I wouldn’t say it is for everyone, but I was completely enthralled by it, and I was surprised to realize, once I finished it, how much I was going to miss it.

This was the last of my official RIP Challange reads. But it's only the 14th of October, so I hope to still have time to add Anne Rice's The Mummy and do at least one Short Story Sunday.

Other Blog Reviews:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Everyday Reads
Tripping Towards Lucidity
A Stripped Armchair
Bride of the Book God
The Bookworm
Park Avenue Princess
Blogging 'bout Books
Books and Needlepoint
Kristina's Favourites


  1. The more I hear about this book the more tempted I am to bite the bullet and buy it in hardback (and I never do that). Thanks for another great review!

  2. The more reviews I read of this one, the more I think I should give it a try. Thanks for the great review, Nymeth.

  3. This is the first review that tempts me to read this book. It sounded too creepy for me, but I like the way you portray the story. I may have to change my mind about this one and give it a try. Thanks for your review.

  4. I'm so jealous of the UK cover of this book! It's so great..the US cover is horrible, I couldn't stand it.

    I loved the role that Jude's dogs played in this book as well. They were some of my favorite characters in the book. This one was very disturbing...not so much scary, but one of those books that just creeps you out. Glad you enjoyed it!

  5. I was already sold on this one after reading Chris's review, but now I'm more anxious than ever to pick it up. Just yesterday I bought The Book of Lost Things, thanks to your review. You really ought to start getting a commission or something, don't you think?

  6. I really, really have to get this back from my brother!! He stole it and my copy of The Historian before I got a chance to read them!! I'm really looking forward to it.

    Great review!

  7. I bought this book a few months ago and I can't remember why. Now that I've read your review....it's going to be the next thing I read!! Thanks for the great review!!

  8. Yeah this looks like something to add to my list, everyone seems to be enjoying it lately. Make sure you read The Mummy, it's great!

  9. Andi: You should get it! I think this is one you'd enjoy.

    Literary Feline: You're welcome :) Do give it a try when you have the chance.

    Framed: It is a creepy book, but I wouldn't say it's too scary. It's more disturbing than scary, I think.

    Chris: It is a pretty cover. The dogs were definitely great characters!

    Debi: I wish I could get a commission... they could pay me in books :P I can't wait to read your thoughts on The Book of Lost Things!

    Stephanie: Do get them back! I haven't read The Historian, but judging by what everyone says it's another great one... no wonder he doesn't want to give them back :P

    Kristina: You're welcome :) I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

    Rhinoa: I'm going to start The Mummy soon. You'd probably like Heart-Shaped Box. Another thing about it that I didn't mention is that it's full of musical references!

  10. This has been on my wishlist since it was published, partly because the title (Nirvana lyrics) appealed to me and partly because I'm dying to find out how Stephen King's kid writes. Sounds like it'll be worth the wait!

  11. Here is my link for Heart Shaped Box


  12. Aww I just saw the comment from Dewey =( Here's my link!



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