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[note: I was torn between going into more depth here and not revealing spoilers – I’m doing the latter, but discussion in the comments is always welcome]

I meant to draw this one out, I really did. I wasn’t going to read it all in an evening. I even tried to stop, watching Hex and catching up on my blogroll. But all of a sudden I was lying on my bed, reading the acknowledgements at the end. And that’s always the sign of a good book.

Judas Coyne has a rock star past, a previous life as an abused, pig-keeping hillbilly brat, and a succession of goth stripper girlfriends who he only knows by the name of their state. The novel focuses on two – his current girlfriend Georgia, and the recently deceased Florida. He buys a ghost on an internet auction site, and it starts to wreak havoc on his life, beginning a journey that takes him across America to the one place you can never go back to.  

I’ve been meaning to read Heart-Shaped Box ever since it came out, and somehow never got around to it. I remember looking for it and finding Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Edges instead, and it’s interesting how similar the two are. In both cases the big reveal is a little obvious, with the exception of a twist that’s eerily similar in both books. Hill’s debut reminds me more of Victorian sensation fiction than conventional horror, which is one of the more delicious aspects – although the supernatural stuff is truly spine-chilling, the real emotional pay-off comes from the revelation and resolution of domestic plot strands. At the start, it seems as though Hill is drawing his characters in black and white, but over the course of 365 pages, the precise shades of grey start to show. For a novel that deals with heavy metal and the supernatural, and has strippers for it’s two main female characters, all of the women are wonderfully, three-dimensionally drawn. Interestingly, we find out more about the incidental characters than we do about Jude himself – it’s as much about the secrets the people in his life are hiding from him as it is about the past that he’s accepted, but still hurts him. The reason behind his name change from Justin Cowzynski to Judas Coyne is briefly but heartachingly dealt with, almost as an aside. The plot itself is minimal and fairly transparent – I’d worked out why the ghost was there in the first hundred pages – but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of it. It’s as much about the journey – the night road – as it is about the destination. And if that isn’t rock and roll, I don’t know what is.

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