“Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.” Most of which he can remember the next morning, though one thing eludes him. He remembers visiting the shrine at the site of his girlfriend’s horrific murder a year earlier; no-one was ever arrested for the crime, but public opinion holds pretty strongly that Iggy himself is the culprit. He remembers blaspheming, insulting both a cross and a statue of the Virgin Mary–if God wasn’t there to help Merrin at the moment she needed him most, why should He be at her memorial? But Ig feels there was something else, something worse–something he doesn’t want to remember. Whatever it was, it seems to have caused him to sprout horns from his forehead overnight–and those horns have conferred otherwordly powers on him. Anyone Ig talks to begins to confess their darkest desires to him, as if seeking his approval to act on their basest impulses. If he consents, they gleefully set about doing the deed; if he forbids them (as, horror-stricken, he often does), they obey sullenly and subside. More, if Ig lays a hand on a person, he can see the worst things they’ve done in their lives. This gets old very quickly for Ig–when most of the town thinks you snuffed out a beautiful, promising young life, you hear some ugly things about yourself. But just as Ig is trying to figure out how to get rid of the horns–or rid of himself, whatever it takes–he hears the worst thing possible: he hears the truth about who killed Merrin. All of sudden, those horns seem like they might come in kind of handy.
I added Horns to my RIP list on a whim–my friend/girl-crush Tansy recommended it just as I was drawing up my list, and her description was intriguing. I don’t read a lot of straight horror, but I like the way Tansy’s wicked mind runs; if she found the book funny and worthwhile, I suspected that I would as well. It was a happy bit of chance, because it’s unlikely I would have picked up the book on my own, and I really enjoyed it–so much so that I’ll definitely be reading Hill’s earlier novel, Heart-Shaped Box, too. I may even work it in before this year’s RIP is over.
Ig Perrish is a nice, normal guy, still reeling a year after the death of his beloved. He’s basically dropped out of his life, and can’t see much point in making an effort to resume it. Merrin is dead, and he might as well be, too. A dead Ig would certainly suit most of the townsfolk and–as his powers inform him–most of his family, too. Only his brother Terry is truly on Ig’s side, mostly because Terry knows for a fact Iggy wasn’t anywhere near the scene of the crime–because Terry was. Oh yes, these powers tell Ig terrible things, things he’d truly prefer not to know. But knowing the truth, he can’t help but do something about it. Luckily, those horns are more than just infernal sodium pentathol: Ig’s got a nice range of new powers. He’s a devil on mission of justice.
The middle section of the book takes a lengthy flashback, so we get a chance to know Ig and Merrin in happy times–along with person who will eventually murder her. The book plants lots of little mysteries–what was the code Merrin flashed to Iggy when they first met? What happened to the lovers during that lost afternoon in the Treehouse of the Mind (which: LOVED that!)? What exactly (and literally) is the killer’s damage? And, most frettingly, what did Iggy do that turned him into a vengeance demon? All the questions get satisfactory answers, eventually. I did worry for a while that we were going to hear all about Ig and the killer, and leave Merrin to be the impossibly-perfect, dead dreamgirl, but Hill finds a way for Merrin to tell her side of the story, too. He earned a great deal of goodwill from me for that.
The final section of the book, of course, is the confrontation with the murderer–a series of confrontations, as it turns out. Ig’s not up against your everyday deranged sex killer, and he’s not going to get by with just waving his horns at the perp and eliciting a confession. Nope, Ig’s going to have to be as smart, and fast, and ruthless as he can be–and even then, he might not come out on top. You’ve never had as much sympathy for the devil as this book evokes, I promise you.
Horns was a swift read–I gulped the first half in an afternoon, and finished the rest over three lunchtimes. It was funny, and horrifying, and touching, then funny/horrifying/touching all at once, and ultimately, deeply satisfying. A perfect RIP read!