Horror Book Review: The Scarlet Gospels (Clive Barker)


Clive Barker is a legend of horror but his literary work is often overlooked in favour of his movies. Part of the reason behind this is that his work can often be quite hit & miss. In fact, his best work often comes in short story form or novella form (his books of blood are immense reads) & it’s there we saw the birth of one of his most beloved franchises…Hellraiser.

As a film (best we don’t talk about the declining quality of the sequels) it is held in high regard, it’s dirty & brutally uncompromising story considered a masterclass in horror & the one that made ‘Pinhead’ a household name.

What many don’t know is that it began life as a short story called The Hellbound Heart. The movie stayed extremely faithful to the plot but choose instead to push Pinhead to the forefront (thanks, I imagine, to the amazing job by Doug Bradley) instead of The Engineer. Wondering what I’m talking about? Go read it!

Considering the size of the franchise it might come as a surprise that Barker never really wrote about the Cenobites again (although a lot of his other work had stylings that seemed familiar). The Scarlet Gospels is a return to that world, one that puts the monster ‘Pinhead’ front & centre as he starts a series of events that will see him battle with Lucifer himself.

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It’s always been something I’ve wanted to see…the world behind the veil, the place where the Cenobites come from. The Hell that only Clive Barker can imagine up…he has such sights to show us after all.

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Barkers style. On the one hand, I absolutely adore his descriptiveness. There are few authors out there who can make me see every gory detail. Every cut with a knife, every snap of a bone, every violation of the body…the imagination involved never fails to amaze. However, on the other side of things his sexual descriptions often come across corny & ham-fisted.

There is a bit of that here but thankfully it’s far from the focus, instead the story is split into two focusing on the paranormal detective, Harry D’Amour & the other on Pinhead.

The latter’s power is shown off from the start as a group of powerful magicians (the last) come under assault from the creature. It’s here that we learn that the name Pinhead is nothing but an inaccurate nickname (they are actually nails) & he does not like being called it.

This opening is everything good about Barker, it’s violent, gory & very exciting setting up the full events of the book perfectly. Hell is rife with internal politics & Pinhead has had enough, he has been working on plan for a very long time. A plan that sees him destroy his own order (the Cenobite order) & those who rule hell. All of this is so he can find Lucifer where he is said to wait, in a cathedral…in a forbidden part of Hell.

This plan puts him on a collision course with D’Amour, a man who has cropped up several times in other Barker stories. Harry is a great character, one filled with bags of personality & he is instantly likable. The rest of the cast stand out well too (although Dale is a little too corny for my liking), Harry has good friends & together they set about trying to stop the Hell Priest’s plan.

The Scarlet Gospels is an excellent read & it is an absolute pleasure to step back into the Hell that Barker has created. No matter the side the story sits on, both are equally fascinating but the book really gets going when the two collide. Hell is a ‘hell’ of a place, a place that Barker brings to life. The class system, the demonic forces, the Cenobite order…it’s a compelling read & one that you just don’t want to see end.

Barker isn’t afraid to kill off characters when necessary & this book does have a shocking conclusion but one that doesn’t disappoint. The finale is frantically exciting & doesn’t leave any room for future stories about certain characters. It’s a fitting end.

The Scarlet Gospels (Clive Barker)
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