The second volume of short stories from one of the masters of horrors doesn’t quite manage to hit the heights of the first. Five stories of varying quality each with the instantly recognisable Barker style.
The first, Dread is another short story that was turned into a full length movie. In it we meet Steve & Quaid, two students who end up hitting it off over a few beers. Quaid has a fascination with fear & what scares people. His interest goes too far though when he kidnaps a vegetarian woman & keeps her prisoner in a sealed room with just a steak for company.
His experiment is to see how long it takes before she overcomes her dread & eats the rotten meat.
He shares all of this with Steve who is shocked but before he can go to the police Quaid knocks him out. When Steve wakes he realises that he is the next test subject for Quaid & he’ll have to face his own dread if he is to survive.
Dread is a well written story with characters that are both interesting & relatable. Quaid, while clearly unstable, does talk a lot of sense at times. Fear drives some & holds back many, it’s just a pity his methods are so sloppy. Still it does result in him getting his comeuppance as he is forced to face is own fears.
A marathon in London is hardly the setting for a good horror story but Hell’s Event has a fun premise with bags of imagination. Every one-hundred years this race takes on extra special proportions as Satan sends a representative to take part, if they win then Satan gets to rule Earth. One runner, Joel, in particular realises what is happening & does everything possible to make sure humanity wins the race!
Barker has some fun here with his depiction of Hell & some if it’s minor minions. It’s got his trademark descriptiveness that makes everything feel so much more real. The ending isn’t as obvious as it first seems which was a nice touch.
Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament
The worst story of the bunch, Jacqueline Ess is a boring chore to read with characters that are so unlikable it’s impossible to care about anything that happens. Jacqueline is bored of life so tries to kill herself. It fails but during her recovery she discovers she can now change peoples body shapes with her mind. This does make for some well-described brutal moments such as when she kills her husband.
Split into small chapters & written as recanting of events we see how Jacqueline comes to terms with her abilities & uses it to get what she wants from men. Men who obsess over her but ultimately meet their end at her hands.
It’s very boring & is the longest story in the entire volume!
The Skins of the Fathers
Thankfully the faults in the last one are well & truly corrected here. The Skins of the Fathers is an excellent story that creates fantastical & grotesque creatures that could only exist in the mind of Barker. These creatures mated with a woman many years ago & have come back to claim their child.
The child’s human father is a drunk & abusive man who is unwilling to give the boy over without a fight. He manages to get the entire town to help him attack these creatures that seem peaceful for the most part.
The build up to the finale is fantastic & it’s twists & turns as much as the creature’s bodies.
New Murders in the Rue Morgue
The final story in Volume 2 is inspired by the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale, The Murders in the Rue Morgue & tells a story about an ape raised to be a human that falls in love & feels jealousy resulting in the death of a young woman. Lewis arrives in Paris to try & help his friend, Phillipe who has been accused of the murder. Phillipe didn’t kill her but he knows a lot about who did & it’s up to Lewis to unravel the mystery.
Inspired by Poe but lacking the same charm, this story has Barkers usual glut of sex & uber-violence. That’s not a complaint as he writes it so well but it doesn’t fit well within the Poe-esqe mystery.
Books of Blood: Volume is a good read except for Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament, easily one of the worst short stories Barker has ever written. That aside there is enough violence, gore & sex to please every fan out there!
Books of Blood - Volume 2 (Clive Barker)