Fiction Reviews

The Scarlet Gospels

(2015) Clive Barker, Macmillan, £18.99, hrdbk, 361pp, ISBN 978-1-447-26698-3


The Head Priest of the Cenobites, also known as Pinhead, although itís not a name that he approves of, has embarked on a mission to kill all wizards on Earth and steal their magical knowledge. Now, with this task almost complete, he seeks out private investigator Harry DíAmour to bear witness and chronicle his coup of the hierarchy of hell. To make sure of this, he kidnaps DíAmourís friend, Norma Paine. So DíAmour along with other allies, must descend into Hell to witness Pinheadís confrontations to become the undisputed ruler.

Given that Clive Barker has abandoned the whole 'Hellraiser' mythos while it became a straight to DVD franchise zombie series, having him come back it, means that itís hard not to compare this with the film Wes Cravenís New Nightmare. However, Barker is not so interested in exploring the idea of what his creation represents, then he is in attempting to give him a narrative with a definite conclusion. While it may not stop Dimension film studios making any more quick and cheap sequels, it does let Barker say that he has drawn a line under it and will not be going back to it.

What is astonishing is how well, Barker pulls off the challenge of having a narrative with most of it set in the landscape and demon population of Hell. It doesnít feel as if you are exploring any familiar devices or tropes. Barker can admittedly be shocking at times, but it is easy to take for granted that he is a visionary writer as well. He does create extraordinary imagery that can make you pause while reading trying to comprehend it, but you do not feel as he is overwriting or trying to desperately get a reaction from the reader. Given that this is an easy trap that a lot of horror writers fall into, I feel that it should be acknowledged.

However, it could be said that a flaw in this story, is that the human and character elements are weakened. The mortal cast of the story is interesting, but there is a sense of them all having to be rushed. We do get details about DíAmourís background but it still feels incomplete. Granted, he is a recurring character in Clive Barkerís universe, but if this was your first contact with him, you would get the sense that you were missing something. The supporting cast that follow DíAmour into the inferno, are people you want to read more about, but this gets lost because of all the strange wonders happening around them, means that their identity feels under-developed.

Overall, this is something that may be more suited to Clive Barker fans than complete newcomers. It is an impressively imaginative achievement, but I can see it losing a lot of people because of the leaps it asks them to take, when they may have trouble following it. This is not intended as a criticism, just that the weight and pace of the story appears to override the characters at times. Possibly the narrative would have been better served if the majority of it had taken place in Hell altogether. Barker clearly enjoys making something bold and new out of what people thought would be predictable. This is an entertaining read with a lot to commend it, but donít expect it to stick in the mind as much as it could done after you close the cover.

David Alkins

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