The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker
Pan McMillan (hardback), 2015
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
The gates to Hell are open and something beckons…
The last of Earth’s magicians are living in fear. A Cenobite Hell Priest known as Pinhead is killing them off, gorging on their knowledge to enhance his own magical powers as part of a quest to take over Hell. Meanwhile, Private Investigator Harry D’ Amour is fulfilling the final wishes of the dead, who communicate with his business associate, the blind medium Norma Paine. But while investigating one such case, Harry inadvertently opens up a portal between Hell and Earth.
When Harry’s nemesis Pinhead emerges through the portal, a vicious battle ensues. After failing to enlist Harry to pen his Scarlet Gospels – the epistles chronicling the Hell Priest’s grand coup – Pinhead instead captures Norma. Harry realizes he must go through Hell – literally – to save her.
The long-anticipated new novel from bestselling author Clive Barker.
After the long quiet of the grave, Joseph Ragowski gave voice, and it was not pleasant, in either sound or sentiment.
WHAT I THOUGHT
I’m a huge fan of Barker’s work. The Hellbound Heart is disturbing and brilliant and one of my absolutely favourite books. Like many fans, The Scarlet Gospels has been a long time coming and highly anticipated. The book was actually available for pre-order on Amazon a couple of years ago and later cancelled.
Unfortunately, The Scarlet Gospels never quite lives up to its expectations. I found it quite disappointing. One of things that makes Barker a great writer is his ability to make the reader uncomfortable and make their flesh crawl – in a good way. He seems to have lost some of this talent with The Scarlet Gospels.
The Scarlet Gospels starts off really well. I thought the prologue with Pinhead destroying the last of the great magicians in bloody horror and torment was excellent. Imagine my horror, when this greatness never makes it to the rest of the book, which at time feels like it could have been written by another writer entirely.
Many chapters in The Scarlet Gospels are set in Hell itself. This offers potential to be great and terrifying. Barker chooses to ignore the potential of this section and play it safe. These chapters were quite dull. Hell is portrayed much the same as any city and doesn’t really come across as a city in the heart of darkness. I really wasn’t impressed. If a writer takes me to hell, I want to tremble with fear, cower and jump at the shadows. This never happens.
Another huge disappointment is the use of the name Pinhead. The character is only known as the lead Cenobite in The Hellbound Heart. Pinhead is a name given by fans and comes across as cartoonish in the novel. I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that I was reading a cheesy script for the next Hellraiser film – made on a budget of course.
Barker first announced this book about a decade ago and promised fans many things. All of the mystery of the Cenobites and The Order of the Gash would be revealed. The Lead Cenobite would be given breadth and depth unseen before. Fans were promised an epic tale featuring the history of the Cenobites, Harry D’Amour, the fall of Hell and Pinhead the usurper. We get none of these things.
There are moments in The Scarlet Gospels that shine but these are few and far between and don’t make up for the novel’s overall failure.
The Scarlet Gospels is bland and disappointing and I wouldn’t recommend it.