The American publication of the first novel (of two to date) by the Britisher whom Stephen King calls ""the future of the...

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THE DAMNATION GAME

The American publication of the first novel (of two to date) by the Britisher whom Stephen King calls ""the future of the horror genre."" That accolade sings the truth of Barker's two imaginative, soul-ripping American story collections, In the Flesh and The Inhuman Condition; but this unwieldy, overplayed novel indicates that Barker's forte may be the short story, after all. Barker has set horror fiction aflame with his liberal use of sex and gore--and this novel is no exception. In a surrealistic prologue to the main action, a gambler/thief wanders through war-ravaged 1945 Warsaw, encountering mutilations and sexual atrocities before he reaches his destination, a game of cards with a mysterious figure. Cut to present-day Britain: Marty Strauss, imprisoned thief, is granted conditional parole; he must serve as bodyguard for reclusive billionaire Joseph Whitehead. At the tycoon's rural estate, Marty witnesses a train of bizarre occurrences: Whitehead's mortal terror of intruders; attack dogs savaging a man who glows with unearthly energy; the subsequent massacre of the dogs, who come back to life as canine zombies; the erratic, drug-based behavior of Whitehead's daughter, Carys, with whom Marty has a sexy, graphically depicted affair. Meanwhile, through chapters set in London, Barker introduces Breer ""the Razor-Eater"" (he does, too) and his lord, Mamoulian, the mysterious cardplayer from Warsaw, a fantastic, demonesque figure who lives life vicariously and telepathically through Whitehead. Seems that Whitehead's success is due to Mamoulian's devilish blessing; now Whitehead has spurned his benefactor, and Mamoulian wants revenge. And revenge he takes, in a series of gruesome scenes involving tortures and slashings and sexual perversions, maggots and shuffling beasts and slimy things--the whole panoply of supernatural grand guignol. This frightening novel boasts Barker's usual scalpel-clean prose and wild inventiveness. But lacking the formal control dictated by the story form, here Barker appears as a naughty boy hidden in a giant candy store, stuffing himself on nasty, offensive sweets. This study in excess may win Barker new readers, but not a better reputation.

Pub Date: May 7, 1987

ISBN: 0425188930

Page Count: -

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1987