Ginger Nuts of Horror
I suspect that whether you enjoy this book will really depend on whether you come at it with preconceived ideas or not.
If we forget about the author for a moment, this is a nice little horror book. The first third is certainly fantastic. The middle section is slightly badly paced. The ending is rather disappointing but overall you’ve come away from it feeling that it was a good read. There were some nice ideas, some brilliant imagery and some entertaining characters.
Now let’s consider this in the light of it being written by Clive Barker, author of “Books of Blood”, “The Hellbound Heart”, “Everville” and the Abarat series, to name just a few. In “The Scarlet Gospels” are two of his previous characters: Harry D’Amour and Pinhead. Let’s take them in that order.
We last met Harry in “Everville”, an astounding novel and one I highly recommend that you read if you haven’t already. I read it recently so that Harry’s character and back story were fresh in my mind. At the end of “Everville”, Harry confronts and destroys something that has terrorised him from the first. I was very interested to see what new challenges Barker would set for Harry in “The Scarlet Gospels”. I was a little disappointed as to where he ended up and the journey he took to get there. In “Everville”, he was a character that seemed to attract trouble but beat it back, sometimes at great cost. In “The Scarlet Gospels”, he attracts the worst sort of trouble: Pinhead.
So, before I continue, let’s consider Pinhead’s background as well. This is far more varied having appeared in “The Hellbound Heart”, eight films and several comics. His character and background isn’t static, but is moulded to fit the medium of the moment. But perhaps one feature which is constant throughout is his power. Admittedly, as the bad guy, he’s usually always bested by the hero/heroine, but to all others he is death and pain incarnate.
These are two iconic characters of the genre and I was salivating at the idea of them coming head to head, yet the book wasn’t close to what I’d hoped for. Their encounters took up a tiny proportion of the book and their confrontations lacked any particular menace or meaning. Harry seems to swear an awful lot – not that this offended me, but I felt it was rather out of character. Harry is also almost entirely reactive rather than proactive, which makes his character feel a little weak.
As for Pinhead, he gets off to a glorious start in the first chapter. I read of his first kills with morbid glee, strangely being more horrified by what he did to the one he kept alive than what he did to those he killed. And his subsequent mutiny is vividly described then executed like clockwork. But after that he starts to have doubts, and fears. This is not the Pinhead I know, the one who slaughters and dominates wherever he goes, only to bested by a worthy opponent. By the end, I felt little interest the character beyond a need for closure.
Considering the novel overall, I found that, if divided into three parts, it could be summarised as: brilliant, slightly above average and disappointing. For the first part, the pacing is perfect: there is danger and respite in equal measure, and we get to see Harry doing what he does best. His first encounter with Pinhead sets the scene for what promises to be a rollercoaster ride of cat-and-mouse games. But the novel fails to deliver on that promise. From the moment Harry and his companions step into Hell, the constant peril starts becoming monotonous. I liked Barker’s vision of Hell, but the characters seem to race through it all, avoiding the need for the vivid descriptions that filled “Everville”.
So, all in all, this book is a decent read, but it’s not Barker’s finest. It reads almost as if it’s setting up a further book with a different villain (whose name I won’t give to avoid spoilers). I can only hope that the next novel is as vibrant and engaging as I’ve come to expect from Barker.