Middle-aged death-metal rock star Jude Coyne doesn't know what he's in for when he buys a Floridian ghost from an online auction site to add to his collection of ghoulish curiosities, which includes a 16th-century skull and a snuff film that effectively ended his marriage. The ghost arrives in the form of a black suit folded into a black heart-shaped box, but it doesn't stay there. As soon as the suit emerges from the box, Jude's life is invaded by Craddock, a dead man with a deadly plan. And in facing this very real ghost in the present, Jude is forced to face many ghosts from his past, including his terrifyingly abusive father, a girlfriend who died tragically and his fallen band mates.

Joe Hill (who, incidentally, is the son of macabre master Stephen King) draws readers in from the first line and successfully creates a suspenseful and foreboding page-turner that keeps them up long after bedtime. He doesn't waste a lot of time with background before jumping head-on into the tale of terror; readers eager for the gore to begin will appreciate this quick start.

Hill is also skilled at conjuring up haunting images one that particularly resonates is the description of a little-girl ghost, the long-dead aunt of Coyne's girlfriend, Georgia. This ghost isn't evil, but her image is the stuff of bad dreams: "Her head was raised, so she seemed to be staring directly at Jude through the window. It was hard to be sure, though. Her eyes were obscured by the black marks that jittered before them." Sometimes this tale does feel unrelentingly bleak ("He felt crowded by death," Hill writes in a typical passage, "felt the promise of death all around, felt death on his chest, each death a stone heaped on top of him, driving the air out of him."). But ultimately, Jude, as haunted as he is by the dead, the living and the living dead, is a character worth rooting for, and that makes for a gripping, if grim, read.

Rebecca K. Stropoli writes from New York City.

 

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