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The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

The Scarlet Gospels is a sequel to The Great and Secret Show, Everville, and The Hellbound Heart, featuring both the Cenobite Hell Priest (Don't call him Pinhead) and Harry D'Amour

The Scarlet Gospels is a sequel to The Great and Secret Show, Everville, and The Hellbound Heart, featuring both the Cenobite Hell Priest (Don’t call him Pinhead) and Harry D’Amour

Picture a boxer standing in a gym, getting ready to work out. Not a lumbering heavyweight or a junior mosquito weight, but a middle weight or cruiser weight, between 160 and 200lbs. Muscular, massive, no extra fat, and every muscle developed for purpose, not show. Standing still, he radiates power, purpose and focus. The bell sounds and he explodes into motion, working the speed bag.  His fists blur as his hands contact the bag, quickly establishing a rhythm that sends the bag back and forth at a steady pace. After a few moments, he switches to the double ended bag, punching it to get it moving, then taking target practice on the elusive bag. He begins to bob and weave, allowing the bag to come at him, evading it while setting up his next strike. Warmups complete, he moves to the ring to spar with an opponent. His muscles contract and extend, tendons exerting force on the bones, moving his hands to precisely the right position before his gloves explode towards his opponent’s body. The two men are transformed from immoveable objects into irresistible forces as their brutal ballet moves them around the ring. Punch and counter punch, jab and uppercut, hooks and blocks, using every tool in his arsenal to reach his counterpart, each fighter seeks to impose his will on the other.

And that is how Clive Barker writes, using every tool in his arsenal to reach the reader and work his magic.

When Barker exploded onto the horror scene in the mid 80′ he quickly gained a reputation based on the level of gore in his stories. And yes, he set a new standard for bloody evisceration and immolation in the aptly named Books of Blood. But there was more to Barker’s stories than blood and organs spilling about. His imagination created astoundingly new and terrible ways to die, and worse, to live. And his prose described these imaginations without flinching, and without allowing the reader to flinch.

But it was never about the gore. Or not just the gore. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King wrote:

“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. ”

Barker uses the gross out to terrorize the reader. The terror comes from knowing that no matter how awful things are now, they will certainly get worse and death might not bring an end to the suffering.

The Scarlet Gospels is a sequel to The Great and Secret Show, Everville, and The Hellbound Heart. If you’ve seen the movie Hellraiser, then you are familiar with The Hellbound Heart, which introduced the character called Pinhead, a Cenobite Hell Priest who inflicts the most save pain possible on his victims, who actually must seek him out by opening a puzzle box. As the book opens, Pinhead is slaughtering the few remaining great magicians in the world in order to launch his final plans. Standing in his way is Harry D’Amour, a down at the heels private investigator introduced in The Books of Blood, and featured in Everville. Like another Harry from urban fantasy, D’Amour is always back on his heels, punching way out of his weight class, trying to protect our world from the dark things which live unnoticed in the shadows. And like the other Harry, he gets by with a lot of help from his friends, including a blind woman who can see and talk to ghosts, and a tattoo artist who inscribes spells directly into living flesh.

Some books take awhile to get started. Either the author is setting things up, or introducing the characters, or dealing with exposition, particularly in the case of a sequel like this one. Barker takes a different approach.

After the long quiet of the grave, Joseph Ragowski gave voice, and it was not pleasant, in either sound or sentiment.

The action begins right away, while Barker fills in enough character detail along the way that people who either have not ever read the earlier books, or who’ve read them so long ago that recollections are hazy are swept up in the action without feeling lost. Harry’s band of unlikely heroes follows Pinhead into Hell to rescue one of their own, and to try and stop whatever it is he’s got planed. The writing is pure Barker, with throat gagging horror interspersed with scalpel sharp wit.

If you like your horror bloody and raw, then this book is right up your alley.

One note, any purchases made through the links in this review benefit St Jude’s Research hospital through the Amazon Smile program, with the exception of the pictured link below.

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