Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Joe Hill
Published by William Morrow
Set to be released February 16th, Horns should bring even MORE fans to Joe Hill, author of Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghost Stories. Ignatius William Parrish, the protagonist, has woken up after a drunken night that he has no memory of; woken up with a pair of horns growing at each temple. And, to his horror, he discovers that the horns provide him with a link to people’s worst thoughts, including what his own family thinks of him and the terrible things complete strangers admit to him about their loved ones and what they would do to them.
But the horns are, at first, the least problem Ignatius (or Ig) has. His childhood sweetheart and the love of his life, Merrin Williams, has been brutally raped and murdered and the entire town of Gideon, New Hampshire, just KNOW Ig MUST have been the perpetrator. But he is exonerated due to (literal) lack of evidence although the townsfolk have already played judge, jury, and executioner. Now, with his elder brother, Terry, home from his very popular late night TV show in LA and his best male friend from childhood, Lee Tourneau, assisting, Ig’s raison d’être is to find out the truth behind Merrin’s murder.
Hill actually lets the reader know who did it fairly early in the story – the rest of the novel is given over to Ig’s quest for revenge. And when you’re dealing with a devil, no one is safe from Ig’s powers. The story moves at a good clip, never bogging down in anything, and once the reader knows who committed Merrin’s murder, it becomes exciting to know how Ig will bring the killer to justice, thereby clearing his own name. This novel reminded me a lot of some early Stephen King (go figure) as Hill makes use of brand names, pop culture, and some clever inside jokes (Merrin’s younger sister, who died, was named Regan. Merrin and Regan? Anybody?? Bueller… Bueller…?), and there is even a reference to the city of Derry. But that is about it as far as Hill goes in writing like his father; he has his own style, and it is very accessible as well as fast-moving.
The novel is a cautionary tale about families, friends, and the devil inside everyone (Hill uses lyrics from the INXS song The Devil Inside to drive that message home). Anyone pushed beyond their limits, as Ig is, could allow their inner demon to emerge and do things their conscious would never allow.
Horns is both heartbreaking and violent – lots of bloodshed in this book, and the showdown between Ig and Merrin’s killer is almost physically painful to read. And the heartbreak comes with Ig losing Merrin, finding out who her killer is, knowing what happened that awful day, and how the book ends.
Hill throws in a lot of flashbacks so the reader can get to know the young Ig, Merrin, Terry, and Lee and over the course of the book. The flashbacks catch up with the present story, and all makes sense. Hill is a wonderful writer what with his use of metaphors, his comedic stylings, his folksy style of writing (reminiscent of some of his father’s early novels), and his spot-on creation of the characters. You really get to know and care about Ig, Merrin, Terry, Lee, Glenna, and others who come and go from the story.
Several critics have complained that Hill’s novel is a perfect example of sophomore slump. I don’t know what they were reading or if they were just having a bad day, but Horns is a fast-paced, fascinating murder mystery/love story with a dash of the devil himself to spice things up. By all means at least take a look at the book and decide for yourself. Hill is, with his second novel, showing the writing chops of both of his parents but in his own unique voice.
4 out of 5
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