The final Books of Blood by Clive Barker ends a series of short stories that has been mostly incredible. Filled with tales & horror, violence & sex, Barker’s short stories are some of his best work & I urge you to read them yourself.
The Life of Death
Volume six opens with the tale of Elaine, a woman having just had a hysterectomy. It’s left her feeling empty & she finds she is just sleepwalking through life now until she comes across an old church that is being demolished.
She is fascinated by it, as is the mysterious man, Kavanagh who she meets while admiring the building. He is a strange man with a morbid outlook on life but she finds herself drawn to him.
When it is revealed that the church hides a tomb filled with plague victims, Elaine decides to break in one night out of curiosity & as much to impress Kavanagh. What she doesn’t realises until later is that she has contracted a disease while in the tomb which begins to kill her friends off. She ends up seeking help from Kavanagh but he has a secret of his own.
This story is a lot of fun & it has a number of nicely placed twists. Elaine & Kavanagh are both interesting characters with the latter’s motives keeping you guessing until the final pages. The trauma of a hysterectomy is well written here & Barker treats it with care as those his incredible descriptions of what Elaine sees in the tomb. The plague is a fascinating & horrifying story in itself; here Barker dips a toe in but doesn’t focus too much on it. It’s just enough.
How Spoilers Bleed
I have to preface this story by first saying that I struggle with tales about flesh-eating viruses & the imagery of our bodies being so delicate that a finger could be cut open if you tapped it on a keyboard. I find the imagery so disturbing that it can turn my stomach (Cabin Fever was a really hard watch for me), something I didn’t think was possible.
Here, for the first time, Barker manages to have that effect on me with a story about a group of men who buy a piece of land in South America even though it is inhabited by a tribe. They go there to intimidate them to leave but accidentally end up shooting a young boy. The group are than cursed so that their bodies become incredibly delicate & they start dying off in gruesome fashion.
It’s a stomach-churning tale filled with pain & suffering, Barker makes sure you know this with his descriptive nature. It’s a good story, dealing with an interesting topic (how can man own land that was there way before them?).
Twilight at the Towers
A werewolf story as agents from the British & KGB discover their true identities & that they have been trained to destroy each other.
The detail is brief because it’s one of the poorest that Barker has ever written. Rarely would I describe one of his works as so boring that I wanted to skip it but that is exactly what we get here. Unmemorable characters with a story that is far too complicated to enjoy.
The Last Illusion
The magician Swann is killed in strange circumstances & Harry D’Amour is hired to watch over his body until it is cremated. A nothing case for D’Amour at first, he is soon pulled into a horrific situation that sees the forces of evil trying to claim Swann’s body because of a deal he made many years before.
This short story was adapted into the movie, Lords of Illusion & it’s easy to see why. Filled with a type of flair that is often missing in other work by Barker, it’s a fascinating read even if it takes a little time to get going. When it does though it becomes a roaring ride filled with intrigue, horrific & imaginative monsters as well as well written characters.
On Jerusalem Street (a postscript)
The final story in the Books of Blood is a return to Jerusalem Street. If you remember we last visited here in the very first short of the first volume. Here, a man called Wyburd is hired to get the book of blood so he skins Simon. Unfortunately for Wyburd the skin won’t stop bleeding & he eventually drowns ending up on the Highway of the Dead.
It’s a satisfying close to the Book of Blood story that was started in the first volume.
Books of Blood - Volume Six (Clive Barker)