First published back in July of 1985, British author Clive Barker followed the enormous success of the first three volumes of his ‘The Books Of Blood’ collection with a second omnibus book containing a further three volumes. Later that same year, as with his initial omnibus, this second collection of books was split down into the three separate books by Sphere. Subsequent printings of these individual volumes saw a change in the cover artwork from John Knight’s artwork to that of Clive Barker’s.
Instead of reviewing the original publication of the books in their three-volume omnibus format, I have instead reviewed the books separately, as six individual volumes, which is the format I first read the stories in all those many moons ago.
As such, here we have the sixth volume from this collection of six dark and disturbing volumes. This volume was released in the US under the name ‘Cabal’ which included this additional story ‘Cabal’ (1988) which was later released as a standalone novella in 1988. The book contains the following short stories:
The Life Of Death - 34 pages
After undergoing a hysterectomy that almost killed her, Elaine Rider finds herself aimlessly wandering around in a lethargic and depressive daze. And then she comes across the workmen beginning their task of demolishing the towering stone structure of All Saints church. Intrigued, she goes to take a look, and in doing so encounters a strangely jolly man named Kavanagh who quickly befriends her. Kavanagh soon reveals his fascination with death, drawing Elaine into his morbid obsessions. And that’s when she starts to feel the urgent desire to enter the locked vaults of the great church before the numerous bodies of the dead are removed. A sealed tomb that is being opened up for the first time in years. An underground crypt where victims of a deadly plague were thrown into and left to rot. A mass grave that Elaine Rider is about to explore...
Oh good god yes this is a dark one alright. The gloomy depressive atmosphere of the short hits the reader like a brick wall from the very outset, smothering the reader from there on with misery and a mysterious longing. The character of Elaine Rider is certainly an intriguing one. Her internal loss pushes her to a restless meandering. And her emptiness ultimately leaves her open to the advances of the strange fellow named Kavanagh. And with Kavanagh sparking a new interest for the deceased in her, the gradual decent from a slight morbid curiosity into a full-blown obsession with the dead for Elaine is an unnerving one to witness. Furthermore, the misguided longings of the desperate woman and ultimately the horrifying conclusion to the tale makes the short a hard one to swallow. It’s certainly one of Barker’s darkest offerings. And with the incorporation of a graphic scene of necrophilia, it’s got some pretty darn strong elements in it as well. It’s like something Jörg Buttgereit might have penned, only with a more spiritual finale. And it’s a damn compelling read.
The story was later adapted by Fred Burke into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘The Life Of Death’ (1993) where it was illustrated by Stewart Stanyard.
How Spoilers Bleed - 31 pages
Stumpf wasn’t happy with how things were turning out in the jungle. His conscience was clawing at him. There was no way he could be as merciless as Locke. Having come over from Europe to buy up great expanses of the Amazon rainforest from the country’s uncaring government, all in the hope of making vast amounts of money from developers, the spoilers have now come face-to-face with the rainforest’s Amazonian tribes. With language proving to be a major barrier between the spoilers and the ancient inhabitants of the jungle, Cherrick loses what little patience he had left and uses the one language he knows the Amazonian natives will understand – the language of violence. And so, after shooting and killing one of the young natives, the spoilers are cursed by one of the tribes elders. More than just the blood of the innocents will soon be on their hands. For the spoilers themselves will be bleeding…
The backdrop for the tale is very different from the rest of the shorts in the ‘Books Of Blood’ series. The oppressive heat of the jungle along with the outrageous greed on show makes for a hard situation to swallow from early on. Indeed, the horrendous actions of the Europeans towards the Amazonian natives sings true to elements of our own despicable past. And when Barker twists the fate of the tribe onto the spoilers themselves, the blood flows and the menacing torment begins. Although the concept is somewhat nasty and quite literally dripping with blood, the end result is slightly weaker than the potential sum of its parts. This is a shame, especially with the altogether predicable ending not really adding any extra kick to the final conclusion. That said, this is still a nasty little tale that seems to get under your skin and claw away at your conscience throughout.
The story was later adapted into the graphic novel format within ‘Tapping The Vein - Book 5’ (1992) where it was illustrated by Hector Gomez. This adaptation was later published again within the later re-printing of ‘The Yattering And Jack’ (1993) graphic novel. The short also featured within the anthology ‘Fantasy And Science Fiction’ (1988).
Twilight At The Towers - 31 pages
The British Security Service had stationed their agent, Ballard, within Berlin. This was to be his last assignment. His meeting with the Russian KGB was a risky one. Ballard would be acting as a fellow KGB member for three months, after which his duties would be as good as over. He would go into hiding from then on. But soon after Ballard and Mironenko meet for the first time, the Russian disappears. And then when Ballard witnesses the after effects of a savage killing in a dark alleyway, the whole predicament seems to get a hell of a lot stranger. There seems to be something about the agents. Something under the skin of them that turns almost feral. Ballard is beginning to learn that he’s more than just a man. A beast lies submerged under his human-like skin. A beast that’s waiting to rise. But the governments have their own ideas of how to utilise this situation. Pitted against each other, the beasts will fight for them. Mere puppets to their overseeing whims. But Ballard has other ideas. This is not how he wants it to go...
The somewhat overbearing complexities of the utterly elaborate scenario that Barker sets down for the short’s premise, sets the tale off on a stunted and much too cluttered pace. Intricacies and governmental conspiracies, mixed with back-stabbing and a wealth of unexplained oddities make for quite a standoffish read. However, as the smoke of the confusing backdrop slowly clears, so a fast and furious tale of werewolf Armageddon begins to appear. The action and pace suddenly cranks up a good hundred notches, with Ballard’s realisation at the truth behind this whole elaborate affair bringing a much needed shot of adrenaline into the tale. And just as the tension and werewolf frolics are beginning to get particularly interesting, the short is flipped on its head and brought to a final (somewhat open-ended) conclusion. It’s one of those stories that improves with a second and perhaps even a third read. Unusually complex with a little too much shoehorned into the limited space of a short story to really hit home with the effect that Barker was obviously trying to achieve.
The story was later adapted by Steve Niles into the Eclipse Books graphic novel ‘Rawhead Rex’ (1993) where it was illustrated by Hector Gomez. The short also featured within the anthology ‘The Mammoth Book Of Werewolves’ (1994).
The Last Illusion - 52 pages
When private investigator Harry D’Amour is urgently called to meet with a potential new client at a house on East 61st Street, he knows that something serious has happened. And upon arriving at the property and meeting with the young woman, Dorothea Swann, he instantly knows that someone has died. And that someone, as it turns out, is none other than the great illusionist, Philip Swann. However, the reasoning behind the request for D’Amour’s assistance soon becomes apparent when the widow reveals a letter that was written by her late husband requesting that should anything happen to him, that his dead body be watched over night and day until it can be properly cremated. Uncertain as to the reasoning behind this final request from her now dead husband, Dorothea nevertheless decided to enlist D’Amour for the morbid watch. But, as the private detective is soon to learn, there is very good reasoning behind the illusionist’s final wish. There was a pact that Swann made. One that he fears will come back to haunt him upon his departure from this world. And now the demons are back for the flesh that they are owed…
A bit of a slow starter, Barker starts out the short with a curious setting of the scene, introducing the fame of the great illusionist before killing him off behind the scenes and then setting forth along a strangely supernatural new path. However, once the general feel for the premise is set down, Barker suddenly leaps into the tale with startling gusto, throwing in pure splatterpunk horrors and grotesquely described demons en masse. From out of the blue a battle has commenced between the demons of the underworld and the private investigator. The depraved madness just continues, with the escalating excitement and suspense forcing the storyline onwards until it bursts out with a spectacular and utterly fitting finale. A truly inspired short and another one of the very best additions to the collection.
The story was later adapted into the film ‘Lord Of Illusions’ (1995), in which Clive Barker was the producer, director and screenwriter. The short story differs from the film quite dramatically, with a completely different storyline and ending. The character of Harry D’Amour later appeared in the novels ‘The Great And Secret Show’ (1990) and ‘Everville’ (1994), as well as the short story ‘The Lost Souls’ from the ‘Cutting Edge’ (1986) anthology.
The short also featured within the anthology ‘The Mammoth Book Of Terror’ (1990).
The Book Of Blood (a postscript): On Jerusalem Street - 3 pages
Wyburd had been hired by a collector to obtain the artefact that bridged the void between the living and the dead. The canvas that contained the stories of the tormented souls that had crossed over and joined the highway of the dead. Inscribed upon the living flesh of the pitiful boy named Simon McNeal. But the flesh had one last soul to collect. One more soul to take to the endless highway. And the blood will soon take its victim…
To conclude the ‘Books Of Blood’ series, this postscript forms a perfect bookend alongside the initial introductory short – ‘The Book Of Blood’ from the beginning of the ‘Books Of Blood - Volume One’ (1984). A macabre but befitting little ending that ties the whole premise of the books together, leaving the collection feeling like a dark and twisted whole. It’s short and sharp demise gets straight to the bleak finale of the postscript, signing-off the six book collection with a final psychotic smirk that underlines the haunting manor in which the entire collection had played to.
The short together with the first short in the collection ‘The Book Of Blood’, was later adapted into the film ‘Book Of Blood’ (2009), that was directed by John Harrison.
© DLS Reviews