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Friday, August 7, 2015

Guest Post Review: The Scarlet Gospels

Today I have asked my friend, fellow librarian, AND  published horror author Jack Phoenix to share his love of the new Clive Barker novel.

And if you are looking for a satisfyingly terrifying read that also supports a good cause, click here to learn more about Jack's novel, The Tormentors.  I really enjoyed it.

You can learn more about Jack and his many projects here.

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Review of The Scarlet Gospels, the Latest From Clive Barker
By Jack Phoenix 

It’s Pinhead, like you’ve never seen him before! Which readers may find wonderful, offensive, or perhaps, like Pinhead himself, they will find pleasure in the pain. With The Scarlet Gospels, Clive Barker brings us his definitive (and admittedly final) version of everyone’s favorite sadomasochistic Cenobite. 

Our story is a crossover of two of Barker’s franchises, pitting Pinhead, now revealed to be called the Hell Priest, against paranormal investigator Harry D’Amour. The Hell Priest is on a mission; appropriate all the human magic he can with the goal of usurping the throne of Hell itself. Caught in the mess, as he is wont to do, is our tattooed, aging Harry, whom the Hell Priest has chosen to be his personal chronicler. When the Hell Priest attempts to secure the detective’s acquiescence by kidnapping and brutalizing one of Harry’s closest associates, D’Amour and his ragtag team of friends are lured into the depths of Hell to rescue her and to stop the Hell Priest’s crazed crusade of power.

There will be two kinds of people who will flock to this book; Hellraiser fans and Clive Barker fans. Clive Barker fans will find an exciting new read, though not nearly as ambitious, original, or as intricately, darkly beautiful with the word-craft as much of his prior work. They will lavish in revisiting D’Amour, and in seeing the Hell Priest for the first time fully realized in print. They will squeal at the demonic landscapes painted for them as the Harrowers travel through Hell, and will find them fondly reminiscent of Imajica. The book is full of humorous and touching moments, like we saw in Coldheart Canyon, mostly between Harry and the tear-jerkingly yet sternly maternal Norma, as well as Barker’s signature blend of erotic gore (a demon pleasuring himself at the sight of a man burning to death, for instance) throughout. 

Hellraiser fans, however, may be disappointed by this book. Indeed, the author’s apparent resentment for Pinhead (perhaps stemming from the fact that Hellraiser is Barker’s most well-known property, despite there being only one previous book, in which Pinhead is fleeting and unrecognizable, and his attachment to only the first two films) bleeds through here. And it’s no mystery (Barker has been saying so since announcing the book’s inception) that The Scarlet Gospels is intended to be his send-off of the character, one who holds the distinction among his fellow cinematic slasher contemporaries of having a literary basis. But those who have fallen in ecstasy with the stony charisma of the Pinhead of the films, a killer who lets his chains do the work, never gets his hands dirty, and kills, not for vengeance or even for pleasure, but for blind devotion to his craft, will find something very different here. Here is a truly sinister villain with a lust for power and a massive ego, one who is capable of rape and who coerces with his fists when he has to. Gone is the ambiguous (or even lack of) theology of the first two films and original novella, and here is an explicit demon, a true denizen of the Hell of the Abrahamic traditions, who engages in an epic battle with Lucifer himself. Some Pinhead fans may find this portrayal rather jarring. Others may simply find it is closer to some of his portrayals in the later, non-Barker films. 

To its credit, The Scarlet Gospels is entirely accessible to new Barker-readers, functions well as a stand-alone novel, and its plot is not reliant upon the D’Amour series or The Hellbound Heart, though those would be natural recommendations to read next. The sweeping scope of the Harrowers’ travels through Hell also makes this book a dark fantasy, so fans of The Dark Tower series will find a lot of value in this read, as would fans of paranormal mystery series such as The Dresden Files, since D’Amour’s cynicism and blasé attitude toward the supernatural will be familiar ground.

Also, do not forget the importance of this book’s cinematic ties. This should be an immediate recommendation to your library’s horror movie buffs, even those who do not claim to read. What lies between the pages of this book is a rare and perfect opportunity for collection cross-pollination, so take advantage of that with a clever display. Perhaps some chains?