Hangovers are always hell, but Iggy Perrish's is worse than most.
The morning after a night of solitary drinking brought on by the first anniversary of his girlfriend's brutal, still-unsolved murder, Ig looks in the mirror and discovers he has sprouted horns: bone hard and needle sharp, they're pushing their way through the skin above his temples.
So begins the second novel by Joe Hill, who follows Heart-Shaped Box and the story collection 20th Century Ghosts with this crafty, pedal-to-the-metal story of love, revenge and the devil in the details of both.
Ig was already in purgatory when the horns appeared. Until a year ago, his life seemed blessed: Son of a semifamous musician father and a doting mom, brother of a popular late-night TV host, he grew up in a small town and found the love of his life when he was just a teenager.
Merrin Williams was not only a red-haired beauty, she was a smart, strong-minded girl who charmed everyone in town. Their relationship was love at first sight, Ig a goner from the moment in church he realized the flashing light he saw from the corner of his eye was reflected from a tiny gold cross Merrin wore at her throat.
Through high school and college, they're a happy couple. Then, abruptly, Merrin breaks up with him, they argue angrily in a busy bar, and Ig drives away, leaving her standing in the rain-whipped parking lot.
The next day, her body is found near the Foundry, an eerie abandoned factory that's a popular hangout. Ig is the prime suspect. He's never charged, but gossip holds that the high-powered lawyer his father hired got him off. Ostracized and paralyzed by grief, he sinks into dull despair.
And now horns. Baffled Ig quickly discovers that the horns have peculiar powers. Other people seem to not really see them, yet when he's near they begin talking without inhibition about their dark secrets: A nun confesses her desire to empty the church treasury and run away; one cop reveals his hidden crush on his male partner as the partner vents his homophobia.
Yet after Ig is gone, they don't remember having talked to him. And when he touches people, he can read the worst acts they've ever committed as easily as reading a large-print book. Not exactly powers to give a guy an uplifting view of humanity — but very useful to a man desperate to discover who murdered the woman he loved and tried to frame him for it.
Hill's father is Stephen King, and he shares King's gift for grounding fantasy and horror in a convincingly detailed real world, and for using the fantastic elements of his fiction to illuminate the human ones. Horns is not only scary, it's insightful, often funny and sometimes sweetly romantic.
But the scary parts? If you don't care for snakes, read Horns with all the lights on.
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435.