Review: The Scarlet Gospels – Clive Barker

Sunday 14 June 2015

The cover of Clive Barker's new novel, The Scarlet Gospels.

The cover of Clive Barker’s new novel, The Scarlet Gospels.

So, I happened upon this novel as I was perusing iBooks. Yes, yes, I know I said that I wouldn’t ever buy an e-book because real physical, hold-in-your-hands-and-turn-the-pages-god-I-love-the-smell-of-books books are so much better. But hey, I’m allowed to change my mind about these things . . . some 175 e-books later. Anyway, back to point.

To begin with, allow me to get some of the obvious information out of the way. The Scarlet Gospels was released on June 1, 2015, and was published by Pan Macmillan UK. I purchased the iBooks edition sold by Macmillan Publishers Australia/Pan Macmillan Australia, and they list the novel as being 288 pages on iBooks. Slightly longer for me, as I have an iPad mini.

The fact that it was written by Clive Barker, and had Pinhead on the cover piqued my interest. I’ve been a Pinhead fan since the first Hellraiser movie, and the novella upon which it was based, The Hellbound Heart. And I fully expected this epic antagonist to be in fine form in The Scarlet Gospels. With a tag line of ‘The gates to Hell are open’ you’d expect nothing less than Pinhead in his menacing but slightly seductive tones to tear your soul apart. And the fact that it’s written by the guy who created Pinhead, the Cenobite Hell Priest, well, what could go wrong?

So, the gist of The Scarlet Gospels is that Pinhead is trying to overthrow the authorities of Hell, and he torturously bumps off all the great magicians of our world in order to obtain the secrets of their magic – their knowledge, and their libraries of rare and powerful magic tomes. Meanwhile, back in our world, Private Investigator Harry D’Armour is working with blind medium, Norma Paine, to assist the dead by fulfilling their last wishes. In the execution of one of these cases, Harry just happens to open up a rift between our world and Hell itself, and surprise, surprise, guess who’s on the other side just waiting to pop on through and cause as much pain as he possibly? That’s right, good ol’ Pinhead.

Pinhead wants Harry to bear witness to his coup, Harry refuses, and in order to make Harry a witness, Pinhead kidnaps Norma, dragging her to Hell with Harry and his merry band of misfits in hot pursuit. No pun intended. Adversity ensues, Harry and his friends have to defend themselves from all manner of hellish beasties and demons, and they all happen to bear witness to Pinhead’s battle with the big boss of Hell, none other than Lucifer himself. There’s a nice lil twist with regards to Lucifer, and I have to admit that I didn’t see that one coming. Of course, there is a lot of action in the novel that I’m not going to mention otherwise there’s no reason for you to read it.

Now we come to the part where you ask what I thought of The Scarlet Gospels. Well, it’s certainly not like anything that I imagined. I was thinking dark, torturous, menacing. What I got was more of a detective novel interlaced with a bit of the supernatural. I expected pain, agony, blood and gore. I got some blood, not a lot of pain, and that was about it. The let down for me was that Pinhead didn’t appear anywhere near as menacing as he was in The Hellbound Heart or any of the Hellraiser movies. Nope, it would appear that Pinhead has mellowed, and that’s just plain wrong. To be fair though, the Pinhead at the beginning of the novel is nastier than the Pinhead in the rest of the novel. When he’s dealing with the magicians, you get to see some of those flashes of grotesque behaviour that you’d expect with this character, but then it just kinda disappears. After taking care of the magicians, I felt that Pinhead seemed to have no interest in tearing anyone’s soul apart.

The protagonist, Harry, and his sidekicks were definitely the more interesting characters for me, as was Lucifer. To be honest, I’d be more interested in reading a Clive Barker book about his version of Lucifer than I would another Pinhead novel. And remember, I like the character of Pinhead. I’m currently reading Clive Barker’s Books of Blood: Volumes 1 – 3, and he does happen to mention in the introduction that he’s not the same man who wrote those early books, so perhaps that’s why Pinhead seems to lack that lil bit of bite that he had. Barker freely admits that he’s moved on from writing that sort of horror, and to me that is evident in The Scarlet Gospels. As I have already written, it seemed more of an action/detective novel than a horror.

I don’t regret buying The Scarlet Gospels, and I did power through my reading of it, but I would have to think long and hard before I decided to spend any more money on a Pinhead novel, as it just didn’t have the horror, scare, or gore factors that I anticipated. As you’d expect with an author of Barker’s calibre and success, it is a well-written and developed novel, it just didn’t hit all the buttons for me as a horror novel. Maybe I’ll have to re-read it without those expectations . . .


About Danielle

I like to write. What more is there to know?
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One Response to Review: The Scarlet Gospels – Clive Barker

  1. Pingback: Reviewing Hell: The Scarlet Gospels (2015) by Clive Barker | The Hell Mythos

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