Devilishly good...

Devilishly good…

“Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.”

There are certain traits that are definitely genetic; eye colour, hair colour, that sort of thing. But then sometimes abilities or personalities get passed down through generations. The Redgrave family are all actors. Michael McIntyre’s dad was a comedian before him. And it turns out that Stephen King’s skill in the field of horror stories has been passed down to his son, Joe Hill.

I didn’t actually know that they were related until I was looking up the book just after having finished it a short while ago, but from the limited experience I have from King, I can say it hardly comes as a surprise.

This is the story of Ig Perrish who wakes up with a thundering hangover one morning to discover that he has grown a pair of horns in the night, frightful things of bone jutting out from his forehead. Speaking to his sort-of-girlfriend Glenna, he finds that she’s acting strange. Firstly she doesn’t even acknowledge the horns, and then she tells him that she wants to eat all the doughnuts in the box before her – would he mind if she did? It seems a bit odd, but convinced that things are wrong, Ig heads to the doctor’s surgery. There, more people beginning telling him secrets. A mother in the waiting room reveals her affair to him, a child declares arsonist tendencies, his doctor talks about wanting to sleep with his teenage daughter’s friend. They all seem to want his permission to do these things.

Ig heads to his parents house, desperate to see someone he loves, but worried that they’ll reveal more secrets. When he arrives, they do indeed pour out some secrets, first and foremost that they believe he was guilty of the rape and murder of his ex-girlfriend Merrin the previous year, something he was absolutely innocent of. However, his brother Terry has a slightly different confession: he knows who killed Merrin, and once Ig has the knowledge, the fires of Hell can’t hold him back from extracting his revenge.

Rarely have I read a book so incredibly immersive. Horns drags you in with jagged claws and holds your face to the flames as images pop up and you feel like you’re right there for every single page. Ig is an incredibly unlikely character to develop horns, having been someone always willing to help and unable to lie for the last quarter century, and this is what makes the changes in him so pronounced. The story jumps back and forth in time, detailing how Ig and Merrin met, how he became friends with the slimy Lee Tourneau, how Ig and Merrin eventually broke up and what he’s doing with himself now he has the horns and, apparently, the power to hear everyone’s darkest secrets.

There’s much in here about religion, about willpower and about sin, as well as copious references to songs and Christian mythology regarding the devil. Whether Ig has become the devil himself or merely one of his agents is never quite clear – in fact, a few things are a little unclear – but what is known is that he can now make people act on their vile urges, as well as control any snakes that happen to be nearby.

Ig is a lovely character who suffers greatly, even before the horns have appeared, although his suffering naturally gets worse from then on. Merrin is a fascinating girl who knows her own mind, but can perhaps be a little easily swayed on certain topics. The secondary characters – Lee, Terry, Eric, Glenna – are also an interesting patchwork, ranging from the truly despicable to the innocents dragged along through hellfire, well-meaning but perhaps stupid or just willing to follow whoever has the power. The chapter where Ig’s own family turn against him is torturous to read, as it’s almost impossible to imagine your parents thinking these things about you.

The book emphasises the fact that the devil is probably not actually the bad guy that we have painted him – he’s an anti-hero, rather than a villain. As Ig suggests at one point, if God hates sinners and Satan punishes sinners, surely they’re working for the same team? It also notes that the devil turns up in most religions as more of a trickster, or the one responsible for bringing life to the world. We may not always like his methods, but he does what he needs to do.

A dark book that is wholly graphic but thoroughly absorbing and will definitely haunt you once the final page is done with.