Joe Hill

Gollancz (2010)

ISBN: 978-057-507917-5

Reviewed by Emma Goninon, March 2010

Ignatius Perrish has spent the past year in his own private hell.  The rape and murder of his beloved Merrin Williams, of which he is the only suspect, lead to everyone in his life pulling away – his best friend Lee, his parents, his brother Terry.   On the anniversary of her murder he visits the site and in a drunken rage does some terrible things that he can’t remember.  He wakes the next morning to a raging hangover and a pair of horns.  At first convinced they are hallucinations, the gift that they give him provides him with an insight into people’s darkest and hidden secrets, including who murdered Merrin.  Ig decides to use this gift for revenge and lets his inner demon out.

Ig does not come across wholly sympathetic, and his friends and family’s bewilderment at why Merrin chose him can be easily understood.  His attempt at impressing Merrin by travelling in a shopping cart down a hill naked does nothing to impress his older and much cooler brother Terry, nor the other teenagers gathered.  Yet he still does it, and after nearly drowning in the lake, he is rescued by Lee.  His sense of gratitude towards Lee leads to an uneasy friendship around which much of the novel focuses.

Ignatius as a character does not develop much during the flashback sequences, and in fact, most of his development comes after his horns appear.  He tended to work his way through his life in a happy stupor, and only after Merrin’s death does he realise who he is and how to get his revenge and redemption.  The character of Lee was creepy from his first description and I hope that was the aim.  To show how Lee ended up in Ig’s life and managed to stay there while making him a wholly unseemly character.  If it was, then Joe Hill certainly achieved that.

Merrin was a fairly superficial character despite her great importance to the story.  We obviously only meet her during flashbacks, but she was not a character whom I wanted to hear more from for most of the novel.  She comes across as selfish and self-serving.  While it is obvious that she and Ig do love each other, it’s not obvious why and I found myself not really caring why.  In the lead up to her death, which we find out about at the end of novel, she shows the most character, and only then did I wish I could find out more about her.  I did, however, want to hear more about Ig’s brother Terry.  As the story ends focused on Terry, a more detailed development of him was needed.  Just knowing that he was almost supernaturally gifted in making people feel comfortable and a very talented musician was not really enough for me to feel like I knew him.

I had not read any of Joe Hill’s work before, but this book makes me want to read more.  I devoured this book in one day.  The writing is simple yet evocative.  The opening chapters drew me in and I was intrigued by the character and the terrible things that were not explained until the final section of the book.  The story of love, friendship and redemption was not what I was expecting from the opening or the summary on the back, but it added to the horror and fantasy elements of the story.

The detailed cover was beautiful and while it did give hints to the story, it did so without giving away the plot points.  It is a self-contained story, and not having read other works of his, certainly did not lack from knowing if the characters appeared elsewhere.   If you are a fan of Dean Koontz, then this novel would appeal.  The wonderful mix of character, relationships, horror and fantasy make for an enjoyable and appealing story.