The Scarlet Gospels. Book review

scarletTHE SCARLET GOSPELS by Clive Barker
Macmillan, h/b, 288pp, £18.99
Reviewed by Paul Kane

Like a lot of people, my first encounter with Clive Barker’s work was through the Books of Blood, The Hellbound Heart and Hellraiser: the latter becoming something of an obsession with me, to rival that of those who seek the Lament Configuration. It seems fitting somehow then that, all these years later, his latest book brings together characters from all of these, specifically his famous detective Harry D’Amour (who first appeared in Books of Blood Vol. 6’s ‘The Last Illusion’, a basis for the author’s own movie version from 1995 Lord of Illusions) and the Cenobite who has, over time, come to be known as Pinhead – though to call him that to his face would, almost definitely, mean the end of you. In a recent interview, Clive said that he always saw the pair as a perfect Yin and Yang, that they belonged together: one having created a Hell on Earth of his own making; the other trapped below in a Hell he wishes to escape from.

Now The Scarlet Gospels – out in hardback in the US from St Martin’s May 19th and in the UK from Macmillan a couple of days after that – brings them together for the first time in prose (D’Amour has, of course, encountered the Pope of Hell in BOOM!’s Hellraiser comic series, but it’s best to see that as a separate beast altogether). And it’s definitely been worth the wait!

The start of the story finds Pinhead in search of all the magic tomes he can find, tracking down the world’s greatest practitioners and torturing them for information as to their whereabouts. Meanwhile, Harry is working a case in New Orleans which eventually brings him into contact with a certain famous puzzle box. Before long, the two main characters’ paths finally cross – at which point, to put it mildly, all Hell breaks loose! This sets in motion a series of events which see Pinhead returning to Hell and revealing his plans, while Harry is forced to follow with a small band of ‘Harrowers’; trailing the Cenobite through the realms of the Infernal in an effort to save one of his dearest friends. Will anyone survive, and what will be left of both Hell and Earth even if they do? Well, you’re just going to have to read it for yourself to find out.

This is a tale that’s been over twenty years in the making, and a book that fans have been waiting patiently to read for quite a while. Originally something like a quarter of a million words, The Scarlet Gospels has been pared down to less than half of that size and is a sleeker, more tension-filled ride for it. In fact the pace never lets up for 360 pages, and even during the more descriptive parts – something Clive is well known for, employing the most beautiful turns of phrase – the tale never flags at all. When I spoke to him about the book a few years ago, he promised that this would be his definitive word on Hell and he wasn’t wrong. Here he shows us what life is really like down below, from the day-to-day workings to the political and religious structure; from the streets and buildings of its cities to the pits of the damned, no stone is left unturned.

Those of you looking to find out more about D’amour and Pinhead will also not be disappointed, as Clive gives us a glimpse of both Harry’s history as a cop and an insight into the Hell Priest’s deepest desires, revealing him to be so much more than his cinematic counterpart. Both are fleshed out equally well in these pages.

The Scarlet Gospels is a book that definitely marks a triumphant return to ‘no holds barred’ horror for the author, and fans of both the Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart will absolutely adore this new offering. But at the same time, it has the scope and breadth of something like Weaveworld or Imajica, the universe it depicts so rich and detailed that you’ll be left staggered – yet again – by its creator’s apparently boundless imagination. From the darkly comic opening to the satisfying and melancholy conclusion, this is a novel that will stay with you a long time after putting it down.

What else is there left to say, other than the master storyteller is back – with a vengeance – so rush out and buy. There’ll be Hell to pay if you don’t…

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