Joe Hill’s Horns – Only Partly A Supernatural Thriller

February 25, 2013

After reading Joe Hill’s ghost story thriller Heart-Shaped Box and thoroughly enjoying it, I was happy to dive into Hill’s Horns (4/5 stars, currently priced at $7.99). Unfortunately, for me, it proved to be a disappointment. Not because of any lack of quality in the writing, but because most of the book doesn’t match its description. From Amazon:


This gifted and brilliantly imaginative author catapulted to bestsellerdom with the chilling Heart-Shaped Box and cemented his reputation with the prizewinning volume of short fiction 20th Century Ghosts. At last, the New York Times bestselling author returns with a relentless supernatural thriller that runs like Hell on wheels. . . .

Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge. . . . It’s time the devil had his due. . . .


This definitely sounded like my kind of book. A guy wakes up with devil horns and supernatural powers, it’s described as “a relentless supernatural thriller that runs like Hell on wheels,” I’m in!

But after the first few chapters, in which Ig wakes with the horns and finds he can read and nudge others’ worst thoughts and impulses and pretty quickly learns the identity of Merrin’s real killer, the narrative suddenly shifts back in time to when Ig was fifteen, to provide the backstory on how he met Merrin and that killer.

From there the chapters mosey along in a pretty leisurely fashion through all this past history, with nothing particularly scary OR thrilling happening. Chapter after chapter, I just kept thinking, “When is it going to get back to the present day, and what is Ig going to do now that he knows who killed Merrin and has these evil powers?”

Skipping ahead a bit, I was very disappointed to learn the story doesn’t get back to the present day until about the last 1/3 of the book. I can understand the need to set up how much Ig loved Merrin, and how it was one of those closest to Ig who turned out to be the killer, but I didn’t need the majority of the book to be about that. Since I couldn’t know what tidbits from the middle of the book might turn out to be important at the end, but I also didn’t want to trudge through all those non-thrilling, non-scary, non-supernatural chapters, I decided not to finish the book.

It’s really the publisher’s fault for labeling and describing the book as they did. I wouldn’t describe it as a supernatural thriller at all; I’d say it’s more like a straight drama with elements of romance and the supernatural. I suspect the publisher pigeonholed it in the same category as Hill’s past, hit books because that makes the book easier to sell to his existing fans. In fairness to the author I am not leaving a negative review anywhere; as I said, the quality of the writing is fine. But there are plenty of people who have given negative Amazon reviews for the same reason I stopped reading.

Some friends have said my remarks actually made them want to buy Horns, because they’re fans of Stephen King’s more recent character-driven books and are glad to see his son (Joe Hill is King’s son) exploring some of the same literary territory. As for me, I bought the book because I wanted the same kind of creepy, scary book I’d found in Heart-Shaped Box, so Horns was not my cup of tea.

If you’re looking for a fast-paced supernatural thriller with touches or horror, Heart-Shaped Box (4/5 stars, currently priced at $8.89) is the one to choose. If, like those friends of mine, you prefer your supernatural tales with a generous dose of real-world drama and character exploration, you will probably enjoy Horns a whole lot more than I did.


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