Readers’ Advisory 2: Heart-Shaped Box. Joe Hill

Quick Facts

Author: Joe Hill

Published 2007 William Morrow. $24.95US, $29.95CAN

374pp. 9780061147937

Horror, Suspense, Thriller

Available in print, eBook, audiobook

Why I Read It

I admit it. I read this, because NOS4A2 was too long for me in the time I had. Joe Hill, son of Stephen and Tabitha King, is a great storyteller. His name has come up in conversation many a time among my librarian friends, because he writes well. Also, I watched Horns, which is based on his book of the same name. It was trippy in all the right ways, and since I  couldn’t get my hands on the source material and my second option was too long, I read this. The idea that a suit could be haunted was also intriguing.

TLL’s Tag

There’s more than a bit of truth to the retail caution “Buyer Beware.”

The Rundown

Jude Coyne, semi-retired rock star and all around a-hole, has a thing for creepy stuff. He enjoys the obscure, the macabre, and the occult. So, when his manager shows him an eBay-like sale for a haunted suit, he jumps on it. He thinks it’s a bit of a hoax, but nonetheless. The suit, though, really is haunted by the ghost of a former lover’s step-daddy, Craddock McDermott, and he has vowed to make Jude pay for what he did to his little girl. The girl in question, Anna aka Florida, is said to have committed suicide after Jude sent her home when he couldn’t deal with her depression and didn’t know how to help her. Craddock is determined to make Jude’s life a living hell, but not just his. Jude’s current girlfriend, MaryBeth Kimball aka Georgia, refuses to leave Jude, so Craddock vows to get her too.

After unsuccessfully trying to outsmart and outrun Craddock, Jude and MaryBeth use a Ouija board to contact Anna. Anna reveals a few secrets, including one that Jude did not want to acknowledge. Anna, her sister Julia and her niece Reese, were all molested by Craddock, usually while under deep hypnosis, which Craddock learned while in Vietnam. Julia embraced her step-father and his ways, believing that he loved her, her sister, and her child. Anna sunk into deep depression for the rest of her life. When she confronts Julia and Craddock, after Jude has sent her home, they stall her until nightfall, the time at which Julia has embedded a compulsion to make Anna take pills and fall into a deep sleep. Craddock suggests, then seemingly hypnotises Julia into agreeing, that no one would suspect murder if they slit Anna’s wrists just right. Her kind, people who suffer from depression, are known to do that sort of thing.

Jude and MaryBeth confront Craddock at Jude’s childhood home, and with the help of Anna, exorcise the murderous ghost.

Here’s what I think

Creepy is as creepy does. I could not read this at night. It is superbly done. It is not hard to see King’s influence on Hill, but in a book about daddy issues, one does wonder. I’ve seen this categorized as gentle horror, but I’m not sure that’s what this is. This is a true horror story. Murderous, vengeful ghosts are out to get you? Yep, sounds about right. The tone makes one envision the entire story through a blue or dark filter? Yep, sounds about right. Ghost appears and disappears AND has a back story filled with terrible things done in life? Yep, definitely sounds like horror story to me.

This is not the kind of horror story I like to read. It was entirely too scary for me. It did, on the other hand, keep me entertained. When I sat down to read it, I was surprised at how fast it went by. I was engaged right from the start. No one thing stands out as being that point at which I knew would keep going, but as a whole, the story worked very well.

Final decision

The horror story writing apple does not fall far from the tree.

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus


Stephen King

Laurell K. Hamilton

Tom Piccirilli


Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman

A Winter Haunting, Dan Simmons

Bag of Bones, Stephen King

Appeal Factors

Atmospheric, menacing, creepy, suspenseful, compelling, well-developed

Book talk ideas

The heart-shaped box and it’s connotations

Animal souls

Rock star demons

Book discussion questions

1) Why do you think it’s easier for Jude to refer to women by their home states rather than their given name? Comment on his insistence to call Georgia MaryBeth towards the end of the story.

2) Craddock mentions that he was never able to take Anna deep under hypnosis. Why do you belive he couldn’t?

3) What do you think happens to Arlene?

4) Why do you think the nightroad was dark for Danny, Craddock, and Jude, but full of sunshine for MaryBeth and Anna?

Clues to the Future

Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box, Nirvana, renaming girls by their home states, Anna McDermott, hypnotist, vengeful ghosts, MaryBeth Kimball, Bammy

Awards and Lists

Best First Novel–Bram Stoker Awards 2007

Best First Novel–Thriller Awards 2008

First Novel–Locus Awards 2008

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author site:

Under the Radar Interview:

Wired Interview:

New York Times Review:

Time Review:,8599,1587666,00.html


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