*NOTE: The hardback version of THE SCARLET GOSPELS was released last summer, however the trade paperback releases this month.
When I hear the name “Clive Barker”, my ears immediately perk up, and my attention shifts to the speaker who mentioned his name. After all, Barker is a horror fiction genius, and he has always been one of my writing idols. I’ve read almost every book he’s written, and I’ve loved them. So imagine my surprise to discover his most recent book, THE SCARLET GOSPELS, is nowhere near as good as his previous releases. Granted, it’s an interesting story…but it is lacking in certain key areas. The result is a lackluster read that does not leave the reader with a satisfied feeling.
If you are not familiar with THE SCARLET GOSPELS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin:
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?
I wanted so badly to love THE SCARLET GOSPELS. It contains two iconic figures from Barker’s universe(s), and I enjoy his works that contain each individual. Thus, when I heard they were in for a “crossover” of sorts, I knew this book should be gold.
Unfortunately, that’s not what I got. The book starts off with a bang that includes an almost fatal meeting between Pinhead (i.e. The Hell Priest) and Harry D’Amour, but then it quickly derails into a series of individual, nonsensical events. Granted, the storyline appears to be chronological, however the events that unravel in each scene don’t seem to make the story progress much.
The book is written well for the most part, in Barker’s trademark style, but it does not flow like it should. This bogs down the narrative, as the reader tries to grasp the meaning (and importance) of each chapter. I found myself going back to reread certain sections, curious as to whether or not I had missed something. More times than not, I had not missed a thing.
I was especially hoping for some amazing imagery when Pinhead ventures into Hell. And I will admit there is a bit. But most of what we are given are bland landscapes and a few architectural oddities that would make M. C. Escher groan.
I will state the final act in THE SCARLET GOSPELS is written well and offers a glimpse of the old Barker we loved from the 80s and 90s. The visionary genius behind THE HELLBOUND HEART shines for a brief moment as Pinhead takes on Lucifer for control of Hell, and the climax is certainly a chunk of the book worth reading. It is just a shame the road to get there is so arduous.
I know the author has had some difficult times as of late (with external issues), and I am certainly sympathetic to them. But I would have preferred to have waited another decade for a better version of this book rather than to have this end the Cenobite legacy.
THE SCARLET GOSPELS is a mediocre feather in Barker’s cap, and I only halfheartedly recommend it. The conclusion of Pinhead’s journey does not end with a bang, but rather a golf-clap, and I confess I am pretty disappointed. Still, it’s fun to see Barker return to this iconic character. I only hope maybe a future story can do the demon justice.
THE SCARLET GOSPELS is available now in hardcover and will be available in two weeks in trade paperback.