What a great book this was. I've had people recommend it to me for ages; a lot of people going with the "He's like his dad...but BETTER!" line of encouragement. Well, I'm glad I listened.
Joe Hill is Stephen King's second son, and as much as I'm tempted to compare his writing to his father's (of whom I am a big fan, as you probably know) I think it would be doing him a disservice. Based on this book, I think his writing stands alone.
Heart-Shaped Box is a ghost story, and probably the best one I've ever read. The protagonist is Judas Coyne, a retired heavy-metal star who now lives in an isolated farm, his only company a cheery assistant and his current lady-friend, whom he calls Georgia (because it's easier if he doesn't call her by her real name). He has a bizarre collection of morbid objects--including a real snuff film-- and when someone informs him that a real ghost is being sold on e-bay, he buys it immediately, if only because it sounds pretty cool. The ghost (of a woman's deceased father) is "sent" in the suit the man was buried in, and soon Coyne starts seeing the old man around his house. At first he seems harmless, but it becomes increasingly clear that both the sender and the ghost don't have the best of intentions towards Coyne. After some pretty terrifying stuff starts to happen, Coyne and Georgia decide to track down the sender as a ways of getting rid of the ghost, and things get progressively weirder and more dangerous.
I don't want to give too many details as to that "terrifying stuff" (as I so eloquently put it), as it's definitely something you should be surprised by. I confess I don't read a lot of ghost stories, but I've never heard of a ghost being quite this terrifying and evil before. The best way I can put it is that it creeped me the hell out, so much so that I couldn't quite walk around the apartment at night without feeling completely disturbed. It's the kind of book that gets under your skin, and even now (almost three weeks after I finished it) I still feel slightly perturbed at the idea of this ghost following me everywhere.
The writing is well paced and lacking in any unnecessary embellishments, and Hill creates a great feeling of tension and suspense all through the book. Judas Coyne is not exactly a sympathetic character, and sometimes it's hard to get a hold of him as a person, but it works because you're not exactly sure what he's going to do or say next. He's a stranger, and that works really well in the context of the story, as we slowly learn more about him but still don't know him at all. And still, it's a powerful story, one that lingers in your brain, It makes you care about what's happening and it's never boring.
I look forward to reading more of Joe Hill's work, because this book just blew me away. And just because someone might ask, I can't really say if he's better or worse than his father. I know Stephen King's work too well and I like it too much to make comparisons. They might write in vaguely the same genre, but their writing styles are completely different. And that's a good thing for both of them.