THE SCARLET GOSPELS (Clive Barker)
A little over two years ago, I read (and reviewed) The Hellbound Heart. I loved it! I was highly anticipating this direct sequel, and while it took a sempiternity, I finally seized a copy. Man, die-hard fans dressed it down, didn't they? I identify as an exponent of Clive Barker, but I'm removed from brainy standpats in literary circles. That's not an insult, by the way. I wouldn't mind being brainy; I'm just saying that I'm approaching The Scarlet Gospels from an outsider's perspective. All of the vitriol beamed in this novel's direction is based on sound reasoning, and I agree with most of it. Nevertheless, I couldn't wait to turn the page to find out how Pinhead was going to raise enough bread to keep the Yakuza off his back.
I'll start with the positives. Barker's prose has been compared to poetry, and I didn't notice a major downtick in writing quality. Remember, I'm only referring to word choice, his descriptive patter. I enjoy his custom of sliding blunt obscenities into otherwise baroque passages of action. The last time I saw a non-spoken usage of "bleeding cunts," I was leafing through the latest R.L. Stine tome. You haven't heard of his new horror series for kids, Sex Ed With Count Nightwing? Hmm, not a shabby joke. I could riff on that for awhile, but I'll spare you the comedic sodomy. If you don't already know, Scarlet involves Harry D'Amour, an investigator of the paranormal who has appeared in previous Barker creations.
The story threads are immoderately convoluted. Suffice to say, the reader spends the bulk of the narrative in Hell as The Hell Priest (he hates his discumbered nickname) sets a plan in motion to govern Lucifer's kingdom. Oh, and Earth. I savored the scenes in Pyratha, the great city of Hell. For whatever reason, the architecture and the caste system fascinated me. I was especially interested in the tower that housed the Cenobites. We do learn a tad about this ageless race of demons, and I treated these nuggets of lore like they were fucking cliffhangers. But - and this is where the hooks fly out of the walls - there are no profound edicts or revelations. In other words, I don't really know that much more about the Order of the Gash than I did before, apart from where they dwell.
You will see allusions to inferior editing in multiple reviews and that, my sweet, is because Barker's original manuscript was cleaved in half. Half! I get the distinct impression that it wasn't an artistic decision. Parts of the book feel skimped on and hurried. I would get specific, but I wanted to obviate the necessity for spoilers. One last fuss, if I may be so bold; the dialogue is contrived. Honestly, the characters converse as if they're in a corny Cannon movie from the 80's. What's with the synthetic sarcasm during moments of extreme dread? I can buy it from D'Amour, but not his supporting players. Speaking of which, folks such as Caz and Dale are not developed in the slightest. Huh, I had a lot of bitching to do.
Following a rockslide of arraignments, you may not believe me when I say that I really dug The Scarlet Gospels. I was sucked into the suspense, I was sucked off by Barker's style and I sucked--I don't care for where this sentence is heading. Use your own judgment. This is definitely a flawed novel, but I don't regret bartering for it. Yeah, that's right; it was a trade. The other party gave up a pristine copy of a mega-hyped genre release. I gave up...um, money. It's not important.