My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Horns” starts with two of the most ingenious opening paragraphs I’ve read in a long while about Ignatius Perrish waking up from having spent the night before doing horrible things and getting ready to do a lot more. Also, Ig (as he’s called) has a pair of horns growing out of his head.
Joe Hill sets the hook early (again, two paragraphs) and then never lets go of your attention for the rest of “Horns” as we learn more not only about the night before but the complicated past of one Ignatius Perrish. Ig was the prime suspect in the murder and rape of his girlfriend Merrin. The night before Ig is set to leave for England for six months, Merrin announces that she wants a bit of a break from Ig during his sojourn in England. Ig leaves is a fit of fury and the next day Merrin is found dead in the woods. Ig is the prime suspect but was never charged due to a lack of evidence.
Now a year later, he’s woken up with horns and is estranged from most of his family and friends. And the horns have an unusual power–they make anyone Ig comes in contact with tell him their most subconscious and repressed desires, emotions, thoughts and feelings. It’s amusing at first, but soon takes a darker turn with Ig finds out exactly how his family feels about him and discovers some clues about what happened the night Merrin died.
At times, “Horns” feels like a lost story by Richard Matheson while at others (especially in the last half of the book), the story feels like vintage Stephen King. Joe Hill shows the influences of both horror masters here, but also comes into his own as a writer with this superb story. Going back and forth, following events across Ig’s life, we get a complete character study as well as a superb set-up of what happened to Merrin and why. The story gives us just enough clues to keep things interesting without telegraphing all of the novel’s final few revelations. And when the final page is turned, you’ll walk away feeling satisfied like you’ve just enjoyed a great meal.
Joe Hill builds on his work in “Heart Shaped Box” with “Horns,” delivering on the promise he showed there in spades. You don’t have to have read “Box” to enjoy “Horns” (each is stand alone), but if you missed it, you’ll definitely want to check out one of the most promising young writers on the market today. “Horns” should only win him over a legion of new fans.
One of the best books I’ve read all year.