My third book in the TBR Double Dog Dare (hosted by James at James Reads Books) was Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. I actually finished this a few weeks ago, but am just now getting around to writing about it.
Joe Hill is definitely taking his place as one of my new favorites writers. I STILL haven't seen the movie version of his book Horns, but I very much want to. And on the side I have recently been reading his comic book series Locke and Key which is also awesome. (Does that violate the TBR Double Dog Dare rules? Maybe so -- but James says exceptions are OK so I am making an exception for these comics. They are worth it!)
Heart-Shaped Box is a wildly inventive, page-turning story about Judas ("Jude") Coyne, an aging rocker who has a taste for the darker things in life. His music is dark, and he attracts young beautiful women who shack up with him for a while before he grows tired of them and kicks them out. He also collects oddities and occult items, so one day his assistant comes across an online auction that seems perfectly tailored for Jude (mainly because it IS tailored for him, we find out later in the story). It seems that the seller is offering a suit that belonged to her dead stepfather. It's basically a haunted suit -- the seller thinks the stepfather is linked to it somehow because it's the suit he wanted to be buried in but was not, so he is haunting the family as a result. Buy the suit and you're buying his ghost, is essentially the offer. The idea of buying a ghost to add to his collection is irresistible to Jude, so he buys it, not really thinking it is real, however.
Of course, there is a ghost connected with the suit. He begins to manifest pretty soon after arriving at Jude's house (in a heart-shaped box, no less -- hence the title of the book) and this ghost turns out to be a pretty nasty character. He turns out to be the ghost of Craddock McDermott, not only the stepfather of the seller of the suit, but also stepfather to her sister, who turns out to be one of Jude's cast-off girlfriends, Anna McDermott, who apparently returned home and killed herself. So the arrangement to get Craddock's ghost into Jude's "possession" was carefully calculated to end in the haunting and eventual death of Jude Coyne.
That alone would make for a pretty interesting and terrifying story, and Hill rocks along for a long while playing on that theme. Eventually, however, Jude uncovers a much darker secret behind Anna's death, which turns out not to be related to Jude at all. Then Jude embarks on a quest to find out the truth behind her death, and even enlists her help from beyond the grave to fight and "kill" Craddock's ghost.
It's a really fantastic story (in every sense of that word) and it's one of the best kind of horror stories. Jude goes through a genuine transformation as a result of the events of the story (maybe another layer to the symbolism of the heart-shaped box), and he genuinely regains his heart and his humanity by the end of the story. Although not in such a sappy way as I am making it sound (ha).
I highly recommend this story, and I am eager to read even more of Joe Hill's stuff. He has a short-story collection that just might find its way into next year's Deal Me In challenge......