Spooktober, Day 24: Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill


“He understood that the ghost existed first and foremost within his own head. That maybe ghosts always haunted minds, not places. If he wanted to take a shot at it, he’d have to turn the barrel against his own temple.”

Like father, like son.

Judas Coyne is a burned-out rock star with a macabre collection of strange and morbid artefacts, like a hangman’s noose and a genuine Mexican snuff tape. So it doesn’t take much to convince him to buy a dead man’s suit on an online auction, even if it is haunted. But once the suit arrives in a heart-shaped box, it isn’t long before Jude realises that the ghost inside has a very sinister and personal vendetta against him, and they won’t stop until Jude pays for what he’s done.

It’s hard to talk about Hill’s work without reference to his father, Stephen King. They have a lot in common. Hill has inherited King’s understanding of the darkness within people and uses it in a way that strangely makes them more sympathetic. Our nominal hero, Jude, is unquestionably a self-centred butthole who treats women as disposable and insulates himself from others through his privilege, he’s not unsympathetic, and it turns out he has good reasons for why he is the way he is. Like many great horror protagonists, Jude really has no one to blame but himself for the mess he’s in, and he at least has the decency to try and keep those close to him safe.

I find Joe Hill’s writing style easier than King’s: it’s lighter, leaner and with just enough humour to accent the darkness. It helps that Hill references pop-culture touchstones and musical trends that strike a chord with me as a nannied millennial raised on a diet of postmodern trash, I suppose.

Feel free to take a guess about which rock star Jude most resembles (I’ve got my own ideas).