After reading and loving N0S4A2 by Joe Hill, I had to check out more of his work. Horns, his second novel, is a fun and interesting ride, but it is not quite as polished as N0S4A2.
Ignatius Perrish and Merrin Williams were an inseparable high school couple. When their adult lives threatened to distance them, Merrin was mysteriously murdered. Ig became the prime suspect, but after the crime scene evidence was destroyed, Ig could not be cleared or convicted. However, his small town and family believe the worst of him. A year after Merrin’s murder, Ig is a social outcast. His future plans are a distant memory, he drinks too much, and is a depressed mess. When the anniversary of Merrin’s death approaches, Ig goes on a particularly bad night of drinking and doing terrible things. He wakes up with a hangover… and horns. Ig’s devilish new powers may help him reclaim his life, or at least help him solve Merrin’s murder.
You might be wondering how well supernatural devil horns and a murder mystery could work together in a coherent plot line. I wondered the same thing. This book requires a fair bit of suspension of reality, but it is a fun ride. I think the plot works, but others have said that they felt like the devil incarnate thing and the murder mystery should have been two separate novels. The book is littered with Biblical references that help fit things together, but even I feel a slight disconnect between the two. Something about the pacing felt slightly off too. The first half of the novel reads a little slow with many flashbacks and character descriptions, but it creates many questions that need answers. Once everything was established I had a hard time putting the book down.
What I like the most about the two Joe Hill books I have read is that plays with perspective. Different people interpret statements in wildly different ways. Someone might see innuendo in a perfectly innocent text. Someone else might take something as an insult when no harm was meant. Hill seems to enjoy playing with the characters’ perspectives of events, and I love that. In Horns the theme also seems to be that you can never really know a person because everyone has their secrets. However, I do think that Hill’s characterization was a bit weaker in Horns than in N0S4A2. I loved the characters in N0S4A2. I missed them when the book ended, and I still think about them often. I just can’t say the same for anyone (except maybe Ig, the main character, but he is no Vic McQueen) in Horns.
My conclusion: Joe Hill just writes fun books. He takes a crazy, horrific concept and mashes it together with a mystery/thriller plot. Somehow it works. Horns‘ plot and characters were a bit less polished than his later work, but I think it is still a good read. I just bought Heart-Shaped Box, so I will likely read that before I continue on with his recent work.