BOOK REVIEW: THE SCARLET GOSPELS / AUTHOR: CLIVE BARKER / PUBLISHER: MACMILLAN / RELEASE DATE: MAY 19TH
For many, Clive Barker is a true master of the horror novel, combining gore and whimsy in equal measure. Barker creates fantastical worlds with believable people in them, and then floods those worlds with blood and other bodily fluids. Others argue that Barker’s impact has waned over the years, falling prey to overly complex and wordy world building that neither excites nor entices.
The Scarlet Gospels has been keenly anticipated by both sides; long delayed and heavily promoted, it’s the book that pits Barker’s own occult detective Harry D’Amour against the demonic Cenobites; namely the monster Pinhead. Anyone who watched horror movies during the '80s will be familiar with Pinhead, and the horrible creature is responsible for much of Barker’s fame.
The book opens with a version of Harry D’Amour, who is not the heavily tattooed monster killer that we learned to love in Everville, and we gain a horrifying understanding of what drives the man. We also learn more about Pinhead itself and what motivates it. This is not the eloquent wise-cracking creature from the movies, rather it’s a thug sent from Hell’s heart to punish mankind. The two swiftly meet, as it seems that the Cenobites want Harry to serve as a witness to their might. The first encounter is cleverly done, and the iconic puzzle box is cast in a new light here.
After an incredibly disturbing beginning, the narrative itself descends straight into hell. Literally. Barker combines his two main story telling skills; dreamlike narratives and a penchant for the absurdly vile to paint a picture of a glorious hell.
It benefits, greatly, from being the size of a normal novel. The work has clearly been heavily edited and though this does seem to have left a handful of plot threads un-resolved, the fact that The Scarlet Gospels is so accessible is very firmly in its favour. In many ways, this is the best of Barker; it combines the swift and to the point deftness of his Books of Blood with the elaborate and in-depth design of his later novels.
The Scarlet Gospels is very far from perfect, but it’s also very readable and highly entertaining. A word of warning though; don’t read this before going to bed; you’ll have nightmares for a week.