Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Perfect Valentine's Tome

Forget chocolates; what better gift to give to your (horror) lover than Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box?  Just how incredible is this 2007 debut novel from Stephen King's firstborn son?  Let me count the ways:

The premise: an ex-rock-star and longtime collector of macabre items willfully purchases a ghost (by buying a dead man's suit in an online auction).  The phrase caveat emptor has never been more apropos.

The villain: the late--yet lingering--Craddock James McDermott is one of the most frightening figures a reader will ever encounter.  Whiles serving as a member of the U.S. Army's psychological operations division in Vietnam, Craddock learned the art of fiendish persuasion, and gained key knowledge of the occult.  A sadistic Svengali waging a posthumous vendetta makes for one harrowing antagonist.

The fright scenes: Craddock's repertoire of supernatural tricks is astounding, and leads to some chilling acts of haunting.  Even breakfast at Denny's turns into a nightmare when the ghost takes over a patron's electrolarynx.

The mythology: Hill's depiction of the afterlife of the dead is both evocative and unnerving.  Those floating black squiggles in front of the ghostly eyes of the deceased formed an image that I will never forget.

The protagonists: Jude and Georgia are flawed human beings, for sure, but prove extremely likable.  The rich characterization of this pair--from their individual backstories to their evolving relationship as a couple--results in an utterly engrossing narrative.

The prose: Hill's gifted wordsmithing brings a scene to vivid life in the reader's mind.  An exemplary excerpt:
The ghost came to his feet, and as he rose, his legs moved out of the sunlight and painted themselves back into being, the long black trouser legs, the sharp crease in his pants.  The dead man held his right arm out to the side, the palm turned toward the floor, and something fell from the hand, a flat silver pendant, polished to a mirror brightness, attached to a foot of delicate gold chain.  No, not a pendant but a curved blade of some kind.  It was like a dollhouse version of the pendulum in that story by Edgar Allan Poe.  The gold chain was connected to a ring around one of his fingers, a wedding ring, and the razor was what he had married.  He allowed Jude to look at it for a moment and then twitched his wrist, a child doing a trick with a yo-yo, and the little curved razor leaped into his hand.
I could go on (the zinging dialogue, the plot twists, the humor, the pop cultural allusions...), but would rather that you go and pick up a copy of this brilliant book.  Readers, first-time or returning, might be dread-stricken, but they definitely will be entertained.

Blogger's photo-adding function is on the fritz, so in lieu of a picture of Hill's book cover, here's some audio content courtesy of YouTube:

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