Jude Coyne, a middle aged former front man of an immensely popular metal band, is obsessed with the occult. His assistant finds a post online advertising a ghost-for-sale and being the collector he is, Jude decides that he must have it. When a heart-shaped package shows up, it contains nothing but an old raggedy suit. However, it isn’t long before the suit brings about unexplained events and spooky behaviour throughout Coyne’s mansion. With his sanity hanging by a thread, can Jude exorcise the demon from his home or will he himself soon be knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door? (Sorry, not sorry)
I had my mind made up by about page fifty that Jude was going to be this irredeemable asshole. I mean, who pays a thousand bucks for a ghost and then is outraged to find that he actually bought a ghost? However, after spending more time with the metal-head, turns out he wasn’t such a bad dude after all. Hill and this other writer he’s related to like to do this a lot. They present their characters through these complex shades of grey to create people who will make the readers question their own interpretations of good and bad. Same goes for Jude’s ever present girlfriend Georgia who starts out quite bratty but settles down and becomes a great, interesting character throughout the rest of the story.
Hill’s ghost, the former hypnotist and downright crazy Craddock McDermott, is a blast to read. Craddock puts Jude through the wringer with trippy dream sequences and deadly mind games. As the reader, it’s hard to get a handle on what’s happening when Jude passes out and the ghoul takes over but I suppose that adds to the fear gripping Jude’s beat-up brain. Craddock can also seemingly take possession of TVs, radios and telephones to freak out his target making certain scenes unsettling.
There’s a few minor gripes like the constant references to pale skin and the umpteen Trent Reznor shout-outs but those are small in scale. It’s clear that Hill was destined for greatness from his first novel onward and while Heart-Shaped Box is certainly frightening fiction, it only gets better from here on out.