The Scarlet Gospels has been a long time in coming following Clive Barker’s unfortunate health issues. The impending arrival of the book has been discussed for many years. I have to admit that I’ve probably never looked forward to reading a book so much in my life. Now, the wait is finally over. Of course, with that tremendous weight of expectations there’s the danger that the book won’t live up to the way it’s been built up in my head, which wouldn’t necessarily be the author’s fault. So how does The Scarlet Gospels fare?
The Scarlet Gospels brings together two of Barker’s most iconic characters: Pinhead, a priest of the Cenobites from The Hellbound Heart (and all the Hellraiser movies and comics), and Harry D’Amour, the hard living detective from The Last Illusion and Everville (as well as The Lord of Illusions movie and minor appearances in other books and comics). These are two of the most charismatic and engaging characters in horror, so putting them together is a potent recipe. Pinhead (as he is irreverently known) is a demon from hell, reaping and torturing flesh from the land of the living, offering all the suffering anyone could seek, intentionally or not. Harry is a private investigator with a gift, drawn to the world of magic, seeing and feeling what most never could.
The book has an extremely powerful opening. Barker brings us effortlessly back into the world he created as if you just read The Hellbound Heart yesterday. That’s not to say that Pinhead and Harry haven’t changed though. They have both aged and grown weary with their lives, but not with their abilities. As they have grown older they have each amassed a wealth of power due to their lifetimes of unimaginable experiences. It’s not too long before the two cross paths. Leading up to the book, I’d been curious as to the circumstances that would cause Harry to open the Lament Configuration (puzzle box) to meet Pinhead, since he knows that it is a gateway to hell and the consequences of opening that gateway. Suffice it to say that it’s well explained and beautifully written. I’m not going into much of the plot, as you really don’t want spoilers. This is a book you should read.
The action is set in a variety of locations, from the seedier side of Manhattan, to my (semi-native) New Orleans, to Hell itself. We learn more about the set up of society in Hell and the place that the Cenobites find themselves within that societal structure. It’s truly fascinating to see the mythos of The Order of the Gash expanded upon after so much time. It’s also captivating to explore the life, characters, and architecture of Hell. This truly is Clive Barker at his best as this fantastical world is woven for the reader. There is tremendous gore, and it’s vividly put on the page in great detail. The author certainly hasn’t gone soft on us.
We learn so much more about Pinhead throughout the book. He’s a demon with a mission. There is one fascinating scene in which Pinhead delivers a line which is sure to become one of his iconic, oft-repeated lines, in the same vein as “No tears please. It’s a waste of good suffering” and “We’ll tear your soul apart.” You won’t be able to help but smile when you find it.
Another constant in Barker’s writing is the excellent characterization of the people (and demons) we meet and their motivations. The people who join up with Harry on his quest are intriguing and offer colorful personalities and add interest to the group. In a fascinating turn of events, we are introduced to a new Cenobite, and some of the events of the book are told from his point of view. His flesh is expertly used as a canvas for creation by Pinhead. He is a far more developed character than any of the other Cenobites we’ve seen on film. He’s not merely a mindless torturer, but still holds traits and thoughts from his pre-Cenobite mind.
The themes that have run through the Hellraiser mythos and that of Harry D’Amour are still present. This is a Clive Barker book after all. There are erotic, fetishistic, and sadomasochistic characters and scenes. The seedy sexual underbelly of society is a constant in Barker’s world, providing a setting to display the ways that extreme sexual vices lead to ruin. Barker shines a light on the darkness of humanity. It’s not always straightforward good versus evil though. Hell is not so black and white.
The temptation was there for me to race through the book, gobbling up the story, but I made myself break it up into chunks to savor the experience and to think about and replay what had happened in my head. There is no idle filler in this book, which is not a bad thing, but with such a beautifully crafted world, I wanted to stay in it longer. Overall, this is the book you’ve been waiting for. If you weren’t already a Barker fan, you will be after this.
Pick up a copy here: http://amzn.to/1H1Vj08
Book Cover Blurb:
The Scarlet Gospels takes readers back many years to the early days of two of Barker’s most iconic characters in a battle of good and evil as old as time: The long-beleaguered detective Harry D’Amour, investigator of all supernatural, magical, and malevolent crimes faces off against his formidable, and intensely evil rival, Pinhead, the priest of hell. Barker devotees have been waiting for The Scarlet Gospels with bated breath for years, and it’s everything they’ve begged for and more. Bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex, fans and newcomers alike will not be disappointed by the epic, visionary tale that is The Scarlet Gospels. Barker’s horror will make your worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories. The Gospels are coming. Are you ready?