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Heart-Shaped Box

Heart-Shaped Box - Joe Hill Aging rockstar Judas Coyne buys a ghost through an internet auction site to add to his collection of bizarre and morbid oddities, which proves to be about the worst online purchase ever - and not because it turns out to be a fake; rather the opposite, in fact. The ghost of ex-mesmerist, dowser, and all-round disagreeable quack, Craddock McDermott, arrives in a heart-shaped box, and it quickly becomes apparent that McDermott is out for revenge - it turns out that he’s the ghostly ex-step-dad of one of Coyne’s ex-groupie-girlfriends, who committed suicide after she and Coyne split. To make matters worse, death has elevated Craddock’s powers of persuasion to the point where no mortal can resist his commands. Can Judas and his current groupie-girlfriend put McDermott back in the grave before he forces them to kill one-another?

Heart-Shaped Box is Joe Hill’s love-letter to rock music, disguised as a ghost story. From the title of the book, to the headings of the sections, to the copious references to rock bands from the 1960’s right through to the present - it’s pretty clear that the very essence of this novel lies with Hill’s love for the bands and songs that have inspired him over the years. Sometimes those references feel a little forced, but it’s not going to detract from the telling of the tale - which is well-written, clips along at a decent pace and doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The book started off a little unevenly, and I had some trouble warming to Coyne initially, but Hill managed to win me over about halfway through, when the tone of the novel began to change from by-the-numbers paranormal horror to something a little more reflective - at which point we realise that Coyne is haunted by more than just the ghost of McDermott; he’s haunted by regret for both words unspoken and actions not taken at various points throughout his life. Here, we’re reminded that we’re all haunted, in one way or another, by ghosts only revealed through the lense of hindsight - the kind of ghosts that creep up on us in the dead of the night, when there are no sounds or distractions to prevent them from manifesting before us, and Hill’s message is brief but clear: it’s music - the songs we cherish and the melodies that set our hearts aflame - that allows us to retake control of our own thoughts and dispel the spectres of our past. For me, this was the best part of the book; I just wish there was more than a few pages of it.

Heart-Shaped Box is not a contender for “best book ever” - for me, at least. However, it is solid, enjoyable fun, and a decent first novel from an obviously talented writer.