First published back in August of 2001, Clive Barker’s novel ‘Coldheart Canyon’ came three years after the publication of the author’s epic love story ‘Galilee’ (1998). With many fans of Barker’s work expecting the sequel to ‘Galilee’ (1998) to be following, or indeed the first instalment of the long awaited ‘Abarat’ (2002) series to emerge, ‘Coldheart Canynon’ was an interesting return to Barker's darker, more menacing and (dare I say) more depraved side of his fiction.
It’s the 1920’s and Hollywood movie-star Katya Lupi has returned to her home country of Romania with manager Willem Zeffer in tow. There, in Katya’s native land, Zeffer has been instructed to purchase anything and everything that might please the actress for the inclusion in her new home back in Los Angeles. And, whilst in search of such items to compliment his client (and lover’s) life, Zeffer discovers an immense mosaic, spanning every inch of wall-space within a room in a rundown monastery. The hand-painted tiles depict a vivid scene of fifteenth century hunters charging through a mesmerising landscape known as The Devil’s Country.
Zeffer instantly purchases the entirety of the breathtaking mosaic and has it shipped back to Katya’s new home to be painstakingly reconstructed within a purpose built room in the property’s basement. And there, in that room, once the great hunting scene with all its erotic perversions and haunting peculiarities has been put back together, Katya Lupi realises the great power that is held within the tiles.
Soon enough the actresses’ famous parties of sexual debauchery amongst the very crème de la crème of the Hollywood scene start to include bringing select guests down into the room to witness its great powers. And it’s here, in the presence of the forever hunting Duke Goga, whose timeless search for the offspring of Lilith and the Devil (a young goatboy), that Katya realises that the room offers the gift of rejuvenation to those that witness the great scene before them. The room can prolong life...and give an everlasting youthful complexion.
Now, in the year 2000, renowned Hollywood actor Todd Pickett is finding his career slowly slipping away from him. His age is finally catching up with him. His time under the limelight is gradually drawing to an end. In sheer desperation to return to the very top of his game, Pickett decides to undergo plastic surgery on his face; in the hope that a more youthful and chiselled complexion will bring back his acting career.
But the surgery goes hideously wrong. And so his agent Maxine Frizelle arranges for him to hideout in the once luxurious home of Katya Lupi, located in an obscure area of Los Angeles, where simply finding the mansion is a task unto itself. It’s here in the Coldheart Canyon that Pickett hides away from the world for now, quietly living in the once magnificent mansion with its now overgrown but still impressively expansive grounds.
However, as Pickett soon discovers, the one-time pleasure palace is still inhabited. In the vast gardens, amongst the overgrown forest of plants, the Los Niños prowl the grounds. The strange end result from the coupling between animals and the ghosts of the Hollywood stars imprisoned in the grounds of the property, the Los Niños are fierce and dangerous beasts if encountered. But Pickett has been swayed by the lascivious thrills of the flesh. Immersed into a world of sexual ecstasy by the many ghosts that inhabit the grounds, Pickett finds himself living out a sordid new life of seemingly limitless sexual gratification. But it’s Katya Lupi herself that steals Pickett’s heart and soul. And inside the mansion itself, Lupi takes the recovering actor a whole world away from the one he knows. Inside the room of the Devil’s Country, their coupling takes them to a land where time is a forgotten concept. And the corruption of the soul can have devastating effects.
But unbeknown to him, Pickett still has a hope of salvation. A hope in the unlikely form of Tammy Lauper – the president of Pickett’s unofficial appreciation society. The overweight obsessive fan has come in search of her beloved idol. And at the hidden-away mansion, where the ghosts of the immortality-seeking dead stars are imprisoned, Lauper will see behind the lies of Hollywood stardom, and witness the bitter cruelty that has converged on this one spot. The ghosts of the dead are waiting...
Written during a very difficult period of Barker's life, with the unfortunate and sad death of his father, Barker takes it on-board to tackle some of the demons that are obviously surrounding him during the time of writing the novel. In doing this, the book adopts some deeply emotive layers that display a vibrant personal weight.
The novel starts off, setting down the firm backbone of the ‘Devil’s Country’ mosaic, forming a solid base of dark intrigue for the story to gestate from. With a clinging atmosphere of quiet menace behind the whole ‘fountain of youth’ giving room, Barker begins to suggest a much more expansive and inherently evil story behind this new addition to Katya Lupi’s impressive home.
From here the reader is catapulted into the current time, where the story seems to dramatically shift towards the truthful reality of Hollywood fame. The character of Todd Pickett is so clichéd that he becomes almost too believable. The glitz and the romance of Hollywood have been instantly shed, leaving behind a desperate actor who refuses to accept that his days at the very center of the limelight have gone.
Barker knows how to keep building on a good storyline, letting the tale flow naturally outwards with the compelling wordsmanship of a great storyteller. Pickett’s disastrous attempt at bringing back his youthful looks plays right into the hands of the downtrodden emotional state that Barker wants the character to think he’s rising from. It’s from here that his principal character becomes like putty in the author’s explorative hands.
What began as a seemingly loosely-connected sub story, has now taken dominance over the whole tale, allowing the otherwise dishevelled remaining pieces of the story to merge around this prevailing plot. Furthermore, the unlikely character of Tammy Lauper, one of Todd Pickett’s obsessive fans, soon finds herself taking on a surprising dominating position within the unfolding plot.
Up until here the novel has played out like a gritty Hollywood noir, with a guttural and downbeat underbelly purposefully exposed to the reader. But there’s that lingering eeriness that can’t be shaken off, that pushes the novel to darker territories. It’s constantly there; oppressive in its smothering presence. And it all stems back to the mosaic that has its own story to tell.
And then all of a sudden, Barker quite literally pounces on the reader with a dramatic sudden shift in the tale. A new degree of grotesque horror hits the reader head-on with the arrival of a new twisted imagining from Barker’s fantastically dark imagination. We’re back in the ‘horror’ game, this time with a monstrously corrupt story of hideous depravity, pitiful addiction, and the eventual surrendering of one’s own soul. The pace is suddenly thumping, the atmosphere bursting with heart-pumping tension, and the whole world has suddenly taken on a frightening new dimension.
With the thick pulse of the story now fully underway, Barker delves deeper and deeper into his dark and often disturbing imagination, to once again explore the possibilities of moral corruption. Very possibly Barker’s most sexually explicit piece of written work so far, the reader is pushed (without much of a warning) into a damn-right intimidating playground for Barker’s mind to unleash all hell.
All taboos are hit head-on within the space of just one chapter, without even the slightest shameful look back. Definite elements of S&M infiltrate the pages, bringing back fond memories of Barker’s ‘The Hellbound Heart’ (1986). The erotic elements of the novel, spiral further into the depraved, leaving even the most hardened reader of bizarro fiction left gasping for air.
With all hell broken loose in and around Katya Lupi’s forgotten premises in Coldheart Canyon, Barker keeps up the intensity of the storyline, with more and move ingrained revelations unearthed all the time. Barker knows how to incorporate the utterly surreal within our everyday world, and he does this with a delightful glee. It’s these out-of-place scenarios that purposefully put the reader on edge. It doesn’t gel right, it’s wrong and it seems to slowly gnaw away at you from under your skin.
Like with his earlier work ‘The Hellbound Heart’ (1986) or indeed ‘Weaveworld’ (1987), Barker once again returns to his love of creating doorways to different (and terrifying) worlds. And it’s this twisted ‘world-within-a-world’ that Barker really cranks up the novel’s intensity. The story suddenly becomes utterly mesmerising in its warped vision of what is happening. It’s scary and seductive all at once. And it’s so very, very Barker!
‘Coldheart Canyon’ is by no means a novel for the fainthearted. The sexual depravities explored to a near limitless excess are nothing short of disturbing. It must be said that the book is a deserved return to Barker’s much loved core of darkly fantastic writing style (not that I don’t also enjoy Barker’s more fantasy based writing). Expect nothing short of the monstrously weird. It’s a hell of a ride into the world of willing degradation and ultimate corruption.
The novel runs for a total of 606 pages.
© DLS Reviews