Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill details the haunting of aging musician Judas Coyne in a truly terrifying ghost story. Until I started reading Joe Hill’s books and comics series, it had been a really long time since I had been actually scared by a book. Growing up, I was always able to read anything in books, it didn’t matter how gross or gory or scary it was. Conversely, I totally could not see gross, gory, or scary on TV or in movies, and at the movie theatre would be the worst thing ever. There were even a handful of book covers that I did not even want to hold onto while I read the story itself, because they were actually too terrifying. I remember when I was nineteen, my boyfriend at the time covered my copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in wrapping paper to mask the stitched together smile on the front, possibly the worst book cover ever. I was absolutely terrified by some parts of Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, a Jack the Ripper book by Gregory Maguire (who wrote Wicked) called Lost, and Celia Rees’s young adult novel Witch Child, but a lot of time passed between reading those books and finding another book that actually scared me.
Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box did that for me. Main character Judas Coyne used to tour with his death-metal band, and collected a following of fans that continue to send him packages in the mail, filled with the gothic, the gory, and the macabre. He adds these items to his growing collection in his sprawling farmhouse that he shares with his girlfriend, his two dogs Angus and Bon, and his personal assistant Danny. One day, a package arrives at his house looking like any other: a gothic parcel with a collector’s item to add to his strange household museum. He receives a black heart-shaped box with a man’s suit folded inside. Thinking nothing of it, Judas doesn’t pay too much attention to the package, not until he realizes that something else has traveled along with the clothing: the ghost of the dead man who it belonged to.
Opening the heart-shaped box sets off the most horrifying chain of events. Hill’s depiction of Judas’s haunting is so terrifying, drawing together elements of violence, horror, hypnotism, Judas’s past relationships, and death. The supporting characters in this book were actually the highlight for me. Judas’s current girlfriend Georgia (he eschews all of his girlfriends’ names for the state that they’re from) is an amazing character, and I loved that there was such a great female perspective alongside Judas’s. Even Judas’s two dogs are central to the story itself, and how Judas steps in and out of relationships – between his assistant, his girlfriend, his dogs, his fans – is consistently on display in this novel.
Even though I just read Heart-Shaped Box a few months ago, if there was any book that I’d want to read for Halloween, this would be it, and I might even give it a re-read just for the holiday.