Joe Hill: Is the NOS4A2 writer the new king of horror?


About 11 years ago, my sister (who loves horror almost as much as I do) lent me a paperback book she had just read, telling me it was really good. The book was called Heart-Shaped Box, and it was written by Joe Hill.

After I power-read through Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, I remembered being really excited that I had at last found a GOOD horror writer…because there are a lot of bad and so-so horror scribes out there. As soon as I read the last page, I did what I always do with a book I absolutely love, I immediately read it a second time.

I thought Hill was nearly as good as Stephen King. It wasn’t until years later that I found out he was actually King’s son.

I almost hate to mention his father when writing about him, because he is talented in his own right. It shouldn’t matter who Joe is related to. But, the word is out there now, so I’m not exactly giving away any secrets at this point.

Thus far, my favorite tomes of his are NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box. In an effort to encourage you to pick up at least one of these books, I’m going to tell you a bit about each of them.

Heart-Shaped Box was Hill’s 2007 debut novel, and the first 500 advance copies sold out in a matter of days. After an article in Variety blew his cover, Hill publicly announced that yes, he was indeed the son of Stephen King.

In this work, Joe introduces us to Judas Coyne, a very unpleasant aging rock superstar, who collects memorabilia of the morbid kind. Like a real snuff film, a cannibal cookbook, you get the picture. He’s prone to hooking up with much younger “goth chicks”, and referring to them by their home state instead of their actual names (his current live-in is called Georgia).

Joe Hill 2 – Courtesy of Getty Images

Jude is sent an email regarding a dead man’s suit being offered for sale, with the man’s daughter insisting it is haunted by his ghost. Of course, Jude jumps at the chance to own this item, and when it arrives, it’s packed in a heart-shaped box. Soon enough, some frightening activity starts to happen, including the appearance of the actual ghost.

Hill is a very visual writer, and his description of the ghost is terrifying. He has “scribbles” for eyes, and for some reason, I found that to be intensely horrifying. Things go from bad to worse, and Jude and Georgia are forced to flee. They think they know why this ghost is coming after Jude, but the truth is worse than they imagined.

These are complex, very real characters, who actually grow as human beings through the events they have to endure. I found myself caring about them, hoping they would make it out of this scary story alive.

Joe Hill – NOS4A2 – Courtesy of AMC

NOS4A2, released in 2013, is my favorite of Hill’s novels. He specializes in flawed, very real characters, people you feel like you know in real life, and the characters of Vic and Lou affected me emotionally.

Our story opens in a hospital, where child abductor Charles Manx awakens from a coma long enough to threaten a nurse. Since Manx shows little brain activity, her co-workers don’t believe her claims.

We are then taken back to 1986, where young Vic McQueen discovers that she has the ability to find lost things when she rides her bike on the Shorter Way Bridge. On one of her trips, she meets a librarian named Maggie, who possesses a similar talent.

Maggie warns Vic about an evil man she refers to as The Wraith (actually our creepy friend Manx), and a few years later, teenage Vic purposely takes the bridge to Manx’s house, in a mysterious place called Christmasland.

When she attempts to rescue a child she believes was abducted, she finds out how truly evil Manx is, and manages to escape with the help of Lou, an overweight motorcycle rider. Manx is captured, and ends up comatose in the hospital.

Joe Hill -Zachary Quinto—NOS4A2—Courtesy Zach Dilgard / AMC

Twelve years later, Vic now a mother, is still scarred by her interaction with Manx. She divides her time between restoring motorcycles and writing children’s books. Although she eventually deals with her demons, there’s a major setback when Manx returns, seeking revenge (and Vic’s son Bruce).

I don’t want to give away too much about this magnificent book. Let’s just say that Christmasland is NOT a jolly, happy place, and Charles Manx and his sidekick Bing are not elves. I was thrilled to hear that AMC is developing a series based on NOS4A2.

I have also read (and recommend) Hill’s short story collection 20th Century Ghosts and his novel Horns. Which was made into a movie starring Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe, and it’s a good one.

Although Warner Brothers acquired the rights to Heart-Shaped Box in 2007, the script (written by The Crying Game’s Neil Jordan) has never been filmed. That’s a shame, because it would make a fantastic movie in the right hands.

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Joe Hill’s star continues to rise, and in addition to the AMC adaptation of NOS4A2, Netflix has optioned his comic book series Locke & Key. The cast has been announced, and the series is scheduled to begin filming this month.

Have you read any of Joe Hill’s books? If so, what did you think? And, if you have not read anything by Hill, will you be giving one of the novels we just discussed a shot? Let me know!