Horns is a story about aftermath; the fallout from a massive tragedy that shakes the small New Hampshire town of Gideon. About a year before the main narrative of the novel begins, a young woman, Merrin Williams, is found brutally raped and murdered in the woods near Gideon. There’s no direct evidence as to who killed her, but the prime suspect, as far as the town are concerned (regardless of evidence), is Ignatius Perrish – her long-time boyfriend.
The book opens from the point of view of Ig as he wakes up after a night of drunken antics on the anniversary of Merrin’s death, with a hell of a hangover. Ig doesn’t remember anything about the night before – which is a problem, as when he looks in the mirror he sees something he wasn’t really expecting: a pair of Horns – coming straight out of his forehead. It doesn’t take long for Ig to discover that these horns are more than just a physical part of him – when people see the horns, they tell Ig their deepest, darkest secrets. Ig didn’t murder Merrin – but now he has a way to find out who did.
Horns is a twisted beast of a novel – it’s disturbing and uncompromising. Joe Hill has created a character study about base desire and turned it into a dark horror-thriller. The story of Ig and Merrin’s tragedy is played out in a series of flashbacks, each one layering clues as to what really happened. It’s a consistently shocking story – really unlike anything else I’ve read. Hill’s plot twists and turns in ways which I really didn’t see coming – it doesn’t really follow any kind of typical thriller structure. The usual reveals in a murder-thriller are all in there, but they occur out of the standard order. We learn early on who murdered Merrin – but Hill doesn’t give us all the details. Instead, he teases them out as Ig uses his newfound powers to find revenge.
The characters in Horns are really quite incredible. Ig feels entirely realistic from the first page. He’s a normal guy who’s been through hell, and now he’s got the Horns to show for it. The way we see him transform (out of order) from the all-out good guy to the anti-hero with a chip on his shoulder is astonishing. Likewise the other characters in the book feel equally as well realised. I really don’t want to delve any further into any of the other characters for fear of possible spoilers, but they’re all fully formed individuals that power the narrative forward.
Horns takes the narrative drive of a thriller and chops it up, throws the pieces up in the air and re-arranges them in a fresh and entirely inventive way. It’s a twisted tale that really is not for the faint-hearted, but if you can stomach the dark subject matter it’s more than worth the read. I really haven’t read anything quite like Horns and it’s lingered with me since finishing. I’ll be eagerly awaiting Joe Hill’s new novel and can’t really recommend this one highly enough.