Perhaps not the best jumping-on point into Barker’s twisted universe, but a fun, gory roller-coaster ride for horror fans...

THE SCARLET GOSPELS

Horror master Barker (Absolute Midnight, 2011, etc.) brings down the lights on two of his most enduring creations: the Cenobite hell priest Pinhead and private eye Harry D’Amour.

This long-awaited final chapter about characters that inspired the films of the Hellraiser series and Lord of Illusions may or may not satisfy the intense fan anticipation, but it’s still a hell of a spectacle. The novel opens as a group of magicians have resurrected one of their comrades from the dead. When Pinhead arrives to kill him again, he warns, “You are the last. After you, there’ll be no more games. Only war.” The survivors are massacred (except for one who becomes Pinhead’s slave), complete with gleefully gory descriptions of corporeal punishment. Meanwhile, Harry D’Amour is in New Orleans at the request of his blind friend, Norma Paine, who can speak to ghosts. While covering up a sex den for one of Norma’s deceased clients, Harry discovers a Lament Configuration—those would be the creepy puzzle boxes you might remember from Hellraiser or Barker’s novella The Hellbound Heart (1986). This attracts Pinhead, who has now been banished from his order. Pinhead declares that Harry must bear witness to his “sublime labor” and write in his gospels of all the carnage to follow. To trigger Harry’s role in his final play, Pinhead kidnaps Norma and drags her to hell, forcing Harry and three friends to follow the demon into the breach. Once in the inferno, the ragtag band must navigate monsters, deadly fog, and the scorched landscape to follow their quarry to his final conflagration. This is graphic horror on a gargantuan scale but with some great character beats, too. When Harry growls, “This is between me and Pinfuck,” it’s a fist-in-the-air moment for Barker’s patient and passionate fans.

Perhaps not the best jumping-on point into Barker’s twisted universe, but a fun, gory roller-coaster ride for horror fans and a worthy ending for an iconic villain.

Pub Date: May 19, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-05580-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2015

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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