This is one case, I guess, in which disappointment was inevitable. The publication of Clive Barkerís THE SCARLET GOSPELS has been teased for well over a decade, and now that the novel is finally here two things are immediately apparent: 1). at 361 pages itís far from the 1,000-plus page masterpiece Iíve heard portended, and 2). itís not exactly the ďepic summationĒ of Barkerís work in the horror field that was promised.
What it is is laudably ambitious. Indeed, had THE SCARLET GOSPELS been written by most any other writer it would be a tour de force. From Clive Barker, however, itís pretty standard. Far from the ďhighly anticipated return to horror fictionĒ (which in fact already occurred in 2008ís MISTER B. GONE) claimed by the book jacket, itís actually very much in line with the dark-hued fantasy epics that have come to define Barkerís written work.
THE SCARLET GOSPELS, as youíve probably heard, marks the first--and apparently last--pairing of two of Barkerís most resonant creations: HELLRAISERíS ďHell PriestĒ Pinhead (who apparently really hates that name) and the tough-guy private dick Harry DíAmour from LORD OF ILLUSIONS (one of the only human characters in Barkerís fictional cannon who appears to interest him as much as the creatures he so lovingly details).
It certainly opens on a high note, with a group of ghosts, all of whom were killed after unwisely calling up Pinhead and his minions, getting dispatched in spectacularly gruesome fashion by the object of their veneration. From there weíre reacquainted with Mr. DíAmour, whoís currently residing in New Orleans. Heís contacted by Norma, a clairvoyant colleague, to break into the home of a recently deceased lawyer whoís gotten in touch with Norma from the other side. Said lawyer, it seems, doesnít want his wife to learn about the debauched life he led, and asks Harry to clean out the place. Harry grants the dead manís request, and while scouring his house discovers a Lament Configuration, or puzzle box--which, as you HELLRAISER fans well know, is what summons Pinhead.
This sets in motion an outrageous series of events. Harry and Pinhead go mano-a-mano in a suitably apocalyptic confrontation, followed by a literal trip into Hell--which as rendered in these pages is essentially another of the supernatural netherworlds that typify Barkerís fiction (be it Weaveworld, Quiddity, Imagica or Abarat). There Harry, Pinhead and their assorted companions undergo many action-packed escapades, and eventually meet up with Lucifer himself, whose form, status and eventual fate are all quite unexpected.
Itís all set down in Barkerís immaculately refined prose, which combined with his superbly described B-movie imagery and cinematic pacing make for an account thatís quite engrossing. The problem is that, again, this is nothing Barker hasnít done before--and indeed even outdone in publications like THE BOOKS OF BLOOD, THE DAMNATION GAME and WEAVEWORLD. So while THE SCARLET GOSPELS is entertaining enough on its own terms, I say itís not all it was cracked up to be.