Book review: Clive Barker's The Scarlet Gospels

 

The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker. Published by St. Martin's Press. Special thanks to St. Martin's Press Publicist Justin Velella for providing a review copy.

 

Clive Barker first introduced the fictional characters of Pinhead and the Cenobites in The Hellbound Heart in 1986. The Hellbound Heart was adapted into the 1987 movie Hellraiser which became a franchise. English actor Doug Bradley played the role of Pinhead in eight films. Pinhead is an intelligent and articulate Cenobite, an extradimensional being or demon who likes to slowly torture his victims and harvest their souls. He is the leader of the Cenobites. Barker's fictional hard-boiled occult detective Harry D'Amour first appeared in The Last Illusion in The Books of Blood, Volume 6. This story was adapted into the 1995 movie Lord of Illusions where Scott Bakula played the detective. Barker directed both film adaptations. D'Amour has also made cameo appearances in The Great and Secret Show and EvervilleIn The Scarlet Gospels, Barkers brings these two fascinating and iconic characters together.

Harry D'Amour is a private detective who is drawn to the dark side and deals with the supernatural. You could say Harry D'Amour is a magnet for the supernatural. His body is heavily marked by tattoos which help protect him from evil spirits. Early in the book, while investigating a case in New Orleans, D'Amour comes across a Lament Configuration, an intricate and antique black lacquered puzzle box that is a door to another dimension and can summon Cenobites from Hell. D'Amour survives an encounter with one of Pinhead's minions, Theodore Felixson, and meets with old-friend Norma Paine, a blind medium. Pinhead wants D'Amour to bear witness to his attempt to change the landscape of hell and challenge Lucifer who has been an absent presence. Pinhead eventually kidnaps Norma and takes her to hell. D'Amour and three of his companions, Dale, Lana, and Caz, must journey to hell to save Norma from Pinhead and his Cenobites. In the book, Pinhead actually takes offense to the name Pinhead. He is referred to as The Hell Priest throughout the novel and is not the same wise-cracking horror villain from the movies. 

The book is 361 pages and is divided into 6 sections. There is the Prologue: Labor Diabolus, Book One: Past Lives, Book Two: Into the Breach, Book Three: The Mourning Star, Book Four: Fallout, and the Epilogue: Prima Fracie. After the prologue, the first section of the book has a noirish-contemporary horror feel to it with the last section evolving into dark fantasy. Clive Barker likes to describe his work as "imaginative fiction." 

Clive Barker has been teasing The Scarlet Gospels for more then a decade and a half. It was originally conceived as a collection of short stories in the tradition of The Books of Blood. Then it evolved into a sprawling Imajica-like novel of several hundred thousand words. The storyline of The Scarlet Gospels ends up being more lean and focused. Barker is a master of writing lyrical prose (even when he is describing the most vile and nasty imagery) and conjuring evocative atmosphere with his sentences. He writes about the sublime and the profane and beautifully describes various grotesqueries.

Before settling on the title The Scarlet Gospels, Barker had his manuscript labeled as The Last Hellraiser Story, so we must assume this is the final chapter on his most famous creation: Pinhead. I recommend this book to Clive Barker fans and to new readers. It is definitely a step up from Barker's 2007 book Mister B. Gone. If you are new to Barker, I also suggest going back and reading The Hellbound Heart and The Books of Blood to read some of his best horror fiction work. 

~ Danny Stygion

 

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