I finished Horns by Joe Hill the other day. Fantastic magical-realism novel masquerading as a horror. Don’t get me wrong…it’s still a horror novel as well…there’s plenty of blood and guts for all you gore-hounds (which I don’t mind at all if done properly and used to further the plot or the atmosphere, and Hill uses it very well). I read in another review somewhere that Hill has his father’s talent without the need to be so wordy (or something to that effect), and I’d have to agree. Heart-Shaped Box was a brilliant debut novel, powerful and poised, and his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts showed us that his talent lies in many genres, not just darkness. Other shorts and a novelette released mostly through PS publishing in the U.K. also highlight that Hill isn’t a one-hit wonder…he’s got the stamina and the talent to go the whole way. I’ll be following this author very closely indeed, and I’d personally rate him somewhere close to Dallas Mayr (aka Jack Ketchum) for the ability to engage the reader in his own private Hell. Now to hope that Hill can produce the volume of work that his father (Stephen King) and Mayr have done.
Horns centres on Ignatius ‘Iggy’ Perrish, the lack-talent second son of a well-known jazz musician. Iggy’s brother Terry has inherited his father’s talent while Iggy seems content to put his all into his relationship with Merrin, his first and bestest girl. But when Merrin is raped and killed, the whole town assumes Iggy is the culprit. Lack of evidence fails to convict him, but at the same time it also fails to exonerate him in the eyes of his friends and neighbours. Iggy fumbles through a year of mourning, and then, on the morning after the first anniversary of the heinous act, Iggy wakes up from an alcohol-fuelled night of ‘doing terrible things’ with some body modifications…a pair of horns growing from his forehead. And as if that’s not enough, the horns also come with the ability to draw forth all the darkest secrets and desires from anyone who sees them. At first he is stunned with disbelief and the thought that he has finally gone insane, but eventually Iggy decides to use these powers to track down and punish those responsible for Merrin’s death. What he doesn’t realise is that in life, the devil’s in the details…and this devil wants to come out and play.
Brilliant, moody novel. Hill ramps the pace at the start, and then drops back into the past for a coming-of-age tale of when Iggy and Merrin first met. Some people have said that this detracts from the novel, but I loved the poignant and captivating back-story that developed through the middle of the novel. It then ramps up the pace and the tension again as events culminate in a not unexpected finale…but there is one small catch. Not that I’m gonna tell you what it is…read the damn book!
With this very powerful and compelling novel Hill has proven once again that he is a consummate storyteller.
It’s in the genes.