Heart Shaped Box tells the story of an aging rock star with a bad habit of buying morbid and unusual artifacts. One such artifact is a box (yes, in the shape of a heart) said to contain a ghost. Spoiler alert: it does.
This is a ghost story that doesn't fuck around. It's clear from the beginning that the ghost isn't there to flicker lights and make scary sounds. No, he's there to make his enemies die in the most painful way possible. Few characters make it through the book without suffering horribly.
Hill manages to take simple archetypes—the past-his-prime rock star, his younger goth girlfriend, the pissed off ghost—and turn them into complex, develping characters. The plot wouldn't have worked without the character development. It's meandering, and sometimes borders on cheesy, but having people you care about going through it makes it worth the trip.
It's difficult to avoid mentioning that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son, and it's difficult not to compare them. Hill clearly has some of the raw talent of his father, which will only get better as his skill with words improves. He also one-ups his dear old dad with the ending. I'm almost always dissatisfied with the end of Stephen King's stories, which can often be summarized as "the bad guy died so stuff stopped happening. The end." So I felt my asshole snap shut when I got to the clear end-point of Heart Shaped Box and saw there was still a section of the book left. If his endings were anything like his father's, a drawn-out epilogue would be painful. Without giving anything away, it wasn't painful. Hill manages to tie up loose ends while providing some surprisingly touching emotional closure as well.
If you're looking to take a brutal road trip with some interesting characters and an asshole of a ghost (and who isn't?), open up Heart Shaped Box.