Title: The Scarlet Gospels
Author: Clive Barker
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Publication date: May 19, 2015
Genre: Horror Fantasy
Source: Bury Library
Buy the book – Amazon
Buy the book – Kobo
I honestly do not think that there was a book I have been more excited to read! Ever! I’ve been something of a fan of Lead Cenobite and his fellows for a fair few years now and was reminded of this books existence a few months back. It’s the official sequel to The Hellbound Heart, the novella that first introduced us to the authors vision of hell, and stars Harry D’Amour a character that I’ve personally never encountered before but has featured in some of Barkers other works.
So when I found out that the local library had a copy of The Scarlet Gospels, I couldn’t wait to get home and start reading it. The prologue (un)happily sets the tone and theme that the Hell Priest – Pinhead to the rest of us – is hunting down magicians in order to bolster his own powers and take over as the new ruler of Hell. For some reason he wants Harry D’Amour to be the witness his rise into his new position, a job offer that Harry refuses – probably because Pinhead didn’t ask nicely enough. Thrown into the mix is a collection of other characters and it is via Norma one of D’Amours friends that Harry becomes the reluctant witness. We’re taken on a masterfully written journey through hell. Which boasts of Barkers amazing imagination for the macabre.
The writing is two fold however. On the one hand we’re treated to this imaginative world of Hell. On the other we’re riding cliches and given some of the finest examples of lazy writing I have come across! The novel really reaches it’s peak when Pinhead reaches the centre of Hell and finds Lucifer. Instantly the fantastic imagination of Barker stops and we’re given the same cock-and-bull as pretty much any other setting in Hell. Fallen Angel, pissed off at daddy dearest, blahblahblah. It’s a real shame that in the end Barker chose to forgo his own creative visions for the more traditional Christian views of Hell.
I then come onto the lazy writing aspect. The human characters in this are without exception the flattest, most dull bunch I have ever come across. As a collective the work ‘Fuck’ is their favourite and resort to it in more or less every sentence they speak. I couldn’t get behind any of them because they just we’re worthy of rooting for. And I am still questioning a lot of their purpose. Harry himself was meant to be the key witness to all of Pinheads doings, and yet, most of the time he was lagging behind and not actually doing any first hand witnessing. As for the rest of them, they were so unimpressionable that I can’t even remember their names, much less want to talk about them.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, Barker must be praised for taking a most beloved creation and toying with him in the way that he has done. This is certainly not the Pinhead we know and love from the movies. He’s not out doing the painful bidding of his order, he’s out for himself and so much more magnificently evil because of it. To take what we know about Pinhead, turn it on it’s head and reclaim the character for himself was certainly a stroke of genius – and yet there is also a familiar feeling. When watching a Hellraiser movie, admit it, we all do it to see Pinhead! It’s the same with The Scarlet Gospels, the best parts feature the Hell Priest and I personally was left wanting to see so, so much more of him.
Was The Scarlet Gospels a fitting end for such a wonderful character? I was disappointed. The ‘last hurrah’ for the Prince of Pain wasn’t the journey I was expecting (NOt that I knew what to expect, but it wasn’t… this) Even if the trip through Hell was actually enjoyable, it was the company that went with it that made the excursion a trial more than a pleasure.
The general consensus is the first quarter of the book is amazingly brilliant and heading in the right direction for what a horror novel should be and what I felt like I was expecting from the sequel to The Hellbound Heart. Then somewhere along the line it turns into a heaping style of tripe with very little driving it. No wonder the book took me nearly 3 months to get through after the excitement of the first 100 or so pages had passed!