Judas Coyne is an aging rock star with his share of darkness in his past: a failed marriage, dead bandmates, and an escape from an abusive childhood. When he finds out that someone is selling a ghost on the internet, he can’t resist. Unfortunately there is more to this bargain than he realises. Judas has been set up: The ghost is the stepfather of a former lover, a girl who had killed herself after he broke up with her, and it looks like the ghost is after revenge.
Joe Hill’s debut novel is an action-filled ghost story, with all kinds of dark and twisted happenings as the ghost tries to drive Judas and his current girlfriend, Georgia, to their deaths. Underlying all the action is a story of abuse, and how abuse shapes its victims. Judas is the victim of a violent father, and he too has done his share of damage: he’s made a habit of getting into relationships with damaged women, then dumping them when they get too close or too difficult to handle. The ghost that arrives in the Heart-Shaped Box is the fallout from his own abusive patterns; and it’s his own damage that prevented him from helping his old girlfriend (called Florida, after her home state, like all of his flings) to cope with hers.
It’s a story of two people attempting to survive a supernatural attack, but also of uncovering dark secrets, and of learning to overcome the damage that shaped them, and the guilt Judas has been carrying for his mother, his band, his lover.
I have to say, I found the early appearances of the ghost in this novel to be creepy as hell, and it was actually a little uncomfortable to read at times. I don’t read much horror, so I don’t really come across that feeling very often. The creepiness wasn’t really sustained later in the novel, as things became more overt and violent, but Hill keeps the story compelling, and not-quite-predictable. I wasn’t entirely satisfied by the climax, but I can’t really put my finger on what more I was expecting from it.
All in all, it was good read, and I’ll probably seek out Hill’s other work in future (once I’ve taken down more of this monster of a to-read pile).
Next: Accelarando by Charles Stross. That’s coming
tomorrow Wednesday – I’m playing catch up.
Words WordPress doesn’t know: Bandmates. But I’m not entirely convinced that’s a word.