Because I’m all about kismet/coincidence/serendipity/sure-why-not, I couldn’t not review this particular book for Hitchcock week. Why? Well, because of a Mr James Rollins, author, who wrote this particularly fitting blurb for the front cover: ‘A new master in the field of suspense’. Remind you of anyone?
Confession time. I picked up this book for three reasons. One was that it was in a sale and I love a bargain, especially considering the speed at which I get through books. Second was that the cover caught my eye and I am a lemming for cover art. Last was that I realized I had heard the author’s name before – he’s Stephen King’s son! Having read just about every single book this man has written, I decided this could all have a Dumas, père/ Dumas, fils vibe to it. Also random trivia is my life – so I got it. After finishing the book, however, I can say that Joe Hill can stand on his own in my book collection, free of nepotism.
The plot of the book would be very straightforward if not for the seamless addition of the supernatural element i.e. the titular horns that make the main character able to hear people’s darkest secrets. Basically, there is this chap called Ig who, while never charged, is thought guilty of raping and killing his girlfriend, Merrin. He wakes up one day with actual horns on his head, ready to exact revenge on the real killer and this is exactly where the book kicks off and draws you in.
I’m not really bothered by the whodunit aspect of the plot since I feel it suffers the same vice that a lot of crime of the week books do – you can’t really come up with a compelling villain unless you have previously inserted him into the story and given him something to do. We thankfully get the who earlier on but have to wait for the why which works great for me. I really like the premise of the book, though – someone can hear people’s deepest, darkest desires -, and I’m glad that Joe Hill stuck with this idea and developed it into Horns. Fashioning Ig into an anti-hero torn between heaven and hell, always under Merrin’s shadow, is what makes the book such a compelling read for me.
WHAT TO LOVE ABOUT IT:
The characters: It’s what draws me into any novel – I need characters whom I either I love or hate. Can you get any better than a group of friends in a small town who have known each other since childhood and have had the necessary time and opportunities to foster animosities, love and obsessions? I think not. It speaks to me because it’s so real – we are all connected to people with whom we share so much history, good and bad. Bonus: all the background characters’ confessions make for endless entertainment.
The references: Let’s start with the character names. Ignatius ‘Ig’ Perrish is unusual and immediately sparks a correlation with ignite. After a quick Google, it is an apt choice – it is of Latin or Etruscan origin and it means ‘fiery one’. His murdered girlfriend, Merrin, and her sister, Regan, are also a subtle throwaway to The Exorcist in a book already positioned between God and the Devil.
Speaking of biblical references, I love the set up of Ig and Merrin – the Adam and Eve, predestined and together since childhood-, the cross that acts as a (sometimes blinding) totem, the snakes and the sermon, the ‘treehouse of the mind’ and the Tree of Knowledge undertones. I also appreciated the Rolling Stones reference because movies taught me that music is inextricably linked to everything in life. And also, it’s the Rolling Stones.
The prose: I prefer the simple, dynamic and concise style that slaps you in the face with its honesty and that is just what you get here – there are no crimson capes billowing furiously in the wind like a sea of blood in the storm. Without unleashing a torrent of adjective and adverbs, Hill is funny, dark and reflective.
“The language of sin was universal, the original Esperanto.”
All in all, I give this 4 out 5 HORNS: It’ll definitely leave you thinking about it.