Having already read Joe Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts and his second novel Horns, I felt it was time to check out his debut novel, Heart-Shaped Box.
This is a tale of revenge as delivered though a mean ghost inhabiting a haunted suit, a simple story, told directly and played out at a brisk pace. It’s lean to the point of having virtually nothing in the way of subplots but that’s okay because the core story is vividly drawn. The main character of aging heavy metal star Judas Coyne could have easily lapsed into cliche or stereotype (imagine Ozzy Osborne being cast in a movie adaptation) but Hill does a good job of making him feel genuine, turning the life or death struggle with the ghost into a chance for Coyne to redeem himself, at least in part, for past sins. Some may prefer the ending to be more Grimdark™ but I was pleasantly surprised and found it fun, even playful.
I can’t think of anything in the way of meaningful criticism toward the story. Perhaps Hill has gotten some of the details of life in a heavy metal band wrong. If so, I haven’t detected them. On the plus side, I especially like how Hill’s characters and Coyne in particular behave realistically and yet believably. There are no ‘walk into a dark room without turning on the lights’ moments. The characters may be vulnerable or out of their depth at times but they’re also smart and resourceful.