Clive Barker is considered the master of horror, his imagination is both fascinating & terrifying. A lot of movies based on his work are considered classics (Hellraiser, Candyman). That he is a prolific author is often forgotten & some of his best work comes in short story form.
Books of Blood: Volume One is a collection of some of Barkers work. Short stories told with the mans vivid & descriptive imagination. If Clive Barker tells you about tearing & ripping flesh you feel every moment of it.
The Book of Blood
The first story, The Book of Blood, serves as an intro for all the stories that follow. Brief but very descriptive we visit a plain Georgian house which also serves as an intersection on the highway of the dead. Roads on the other side of the veil where the dead walk towards salvation or damnation.
It’s an OK intro that borders on boring if it wasn’t for how descriptive Barker is. Every inch of pain & suffering is felt (reminded me of the Hellbound Heart, the book that inspired Hellraiser).
The Midnight Meat Train
The Midnight Meat Train is one of Barkers more popular stories having been made into a full length movie staring Bradley Cooper & Vinnie Jones. The short story is light on details but heavy on graphic violence. In it we meet Kaufman, a man disillusioned with life in the big city of New York. He slogs his way through each day disgusted with what he sees around him. Meanwhile a serial killer is on the loose hunting victims on the subway system.
Victims are found strung up like carcasses of meat, shaved bald & gutted. To confuse matters for the authorities these murders appear to be meticulously planned. Victims clothing folded neatly in bags, buckets left to collect blood that drips as they hang from the railings of the carriages.
These crimes are being committed by a man named Mahogany, who considers himself part of a higher cause. These murders are to feed things he refers to as the fathers. He hunts & chooses the best victims to give to his masters.
After a long night at work Kaufman falls asleep on a late night train, only waking when it is to late. He quickly discovers that he is on the midnight meat train & what awaits at the final stop will terrify him beyond comprehension.
An exciting story with buckets of blood & gore. It’s paced well & makes the smart decision of not hiding Mahogany’s existence & intentions. It builds excitingly towards a climax & reveal that leaves you wanting more. An excellently written story.
The Yattering and Jack
Telling the tale of a lowly demons attempt to drive a man mad so Hell can claim his soul. Barker writes demons well (check out Mr B. Gone) & the Yattering is no exception. What makes this short stand out is its intended victim. A man so passive it’s enough to drive a demon crazy! The mid-point reveal that Jack is actually playing a game & is fully aware of the demons presence falls a little flat. I think a story about a demons inability to destroy a calm, passive man forcing the demon to effectively destroy itself would have made for a more interesting tale.
That being said, it’s still a lot of fun to read the demons reactions to getting no reaction!
Pig Blood Blues
A fun & interesting story about an ex-policeman beginning work at a youth detention centre. After getting involved in the aftermath of a fight he learns of another boy who may have committed suicide at a little farm on the grounds. The place is a a dump, home to some pigs & one enormous Sow who watches him with eyes that could almost be intelligent!
I enjoyed the direction this story took, expecting something far simpler & getting a much more twisted tale. Seeing it unravel before your very eyes all with that wonderful sense of dread that Barker creates is a high point of the entire volume. It even manages to sucker me into believing their would actually be a positive resolution!
Sex, Death and Starshine
The weakest story of the entire book tells the story of a troupe of actors planning to perform Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night as a last hurrah for a failing theatre. The production has numerous problems with the biggest being the lead actress who can’t act at all. Her name brings star power though & the director of the piece also happens to be sleeping with her.
The play is going to be bad, something that a watcher from the wings can’t allow.
The problem with this story is that it’s just not very interesting. It drags its heels to a resolution that disappoints. Characters are bland & mostly unlikable which makes the ending a bit of a head-scratcher. It’s a tale seeming to want to hammer home the refinement of the theatre while lambasting the loss of many iconic venues over the years.
In the Hills, the Cities
Books of Blood: Volume One ends on a high point thankfully with an insanely imaginative story of two towns in Yugoslavia that, every ten years, meet to battle it out. They don’t hate each other, it’s just what’s always happened so they continue the tradition.
What really excites here is the manner in which they battle. Men, woman & children bound together to create a towering monstrosity. Each person doing their part with their bodies stretched to their very limits. It’s an incredible read once it gets going & deals with how seeing such a sight would affect a persons mind. Barker loves to write about madness & it’s not always great but here we get an incredible telling of how it affects individuals as well as a huge group of people.
It’s lead characters (two men on their honeymoon) are a bit bland though & their bickering is more annoying than interesting. Still, they take a backseat to the sight of two towering, living giants made up of citizens from two ancient cities destined to do this dance forever.
Volume One is mostly hits thankfully, interesting & fun reads with buckets of violence & gore. Barker is so descriptive in his writing that it’s impossible to not feel repulsed at times as he describes flayed flesh & skin, wounds & the destruction that can be meted upon the human body.
Books of Blood - Volume One (Clive Barker)