First published back in July of 1987, British splatterpunk author Shaun Hutson released his horror-cum-thriller novel ‘Victims’, following on from an already impressive line of novels.

DLS Synopsis:
Over the years, thirty-two year old Frank Miller had certainly earned his strong reputation as one of the film world’s top special effects artists.  Having started out as a press and then police photographer, Miller had witnessed (and photographed) just about every way in which a human body could be mangled, desecrated or destroyed.  It had set him up with the gruesome inspiration and know-how that would later define his career remaking such atrocities.

However, all of Miller’s talent with prosthetics is put in jeopardy when a nasty accident occurs involving some non-firing special effects shotgun squibs which blow-up in Miller’s face whilst he’s inspecting them.  After being rushed to the nearby hospital in an ambulance, Miller is informed that there is luckily no substantial damage to either the retina or optic nerve of his eyes, but his left eye is nevertheless too badly damaged to remain functional.  However, Doctor George Cook offers Miller the opportunity to undergo an eye transplant for his badly damaged left eye, which if successful, should fully restore Miller’s sight.  Miller agrees to the transplant, putting his faith and trust in the confident doctor.

Meanwhile, a serial killer is at large in the city of London, horrifically mutilating each one of his victims.  There seems to be no connecting pattern to the murders, leaving thirty-eight year old Detective Inspector Stuart Gibson and forty-five year old Detective Sergeant Alan Chandler grasping for straws in their attempts to catch the killer.  At the same time, popular TV reporter Terri Warner is finding that the hype surrounding the murders is doing her career no harm at all.  But after receiving an unnerving anonymous phonecall message, the twenty-seven year old reporter finds herself being dragged into something she thought she would only be reporting on.

Whilst the serial killer’s victim count continues to mount, Frank Miller is trying to adjust to his new left eye.  At first he experiences vivid nightmares.  However when Miller starts to undergo sudden attacks of momentary blindness, his growing concern surrounding the after effects from the transplant quickly begin to mount.

And then he notices that Doctor George Cook has a faint, almost luminescent outline, like an aura, which only Miller appears to be able to see.  Furthermore, the strange glow is only visible through his ‘new’ left eye.  But Miller thinks little of it, even when the doctor is killed by a man who purposefully drives his Datsun into him.

But soon enough Miller notices photos of the two most recent victims of the serial killer – George Cook and Penny Steele – which have that very same curious phosphorescent glow surrounding them.  And it’s only then that the unbelievable realisation dawns on him.  He can see those that were unwittingly born to be victims...

DLS Review:
Hutson launches into this interesting approach towards the slasher genre with an inspired notion that some people are actually born to become murder victims, as opposed to a murderer picking out the victims.  This unnerving twist on the idea of fate forms the very backbone for an otherwise quite run-of-the-mill serial killer thriller.

With much of the novel given over to Frank Miller’s unfortunate accident and subsequent eye transplant, and then on to his recovery and his sudden ability to see predestined victims; a good proportion of the first half of the novel is considerably more restrained with regards to action and the splatterpunk frolics that we usually associate with Shaun Hutson’s novels.  Okay, so the gradual pile up of bodies from our mysterious serial killer adds a certain ‘horror edge’ to the whole thing.  And certainly Miller’s special-effects work has plenty of that delightful gore-factor thrown in for good measure.  Nevertheless, ‘Victims’ still feels somewhat more restrained than what we are used to with a Hutson tale.

That said, Hutson clearly enjoys the bluff (and double-bluff) afforded to him by the use of a gory special-effects artist’s work and props.  In itself this isn’t anything too unexpected.  But Hutson’s sheer relish with depicting the vivid gore (whether real or faked in the story) is just an absolute pleasure to read.  Perhaps none more so than the notorious baby-in-a-microwave scene that really gets the splatterpunk gross-out juices flowing.

With just two dominating storyline threads carrying the tale along, Hutson pays particular attention to interweaving the handful of ‘principal’ characters and the individual impact that they have on the tale’s overall progression.  That’s not to say that Hutson has utilised any strong characterisation.  Far from it in fact.  It’s the usual mix of gritty clichés and underdeveloped characters sticking to simplistic and ‘cast-in-iron’ traits that utterly define their roles in the tale.  No loving warmth, no depth, no room for conflicting complexities, just the usual paint-by-numbers Hutson characters through and through.  But as always, it works to some easily entertaining degree.

Hutson maintains a consistent pace throughout that is a few notches down from his usual neck-breaking standards.  Although along the way expect plenty of twists and turns, with barely fleshed-out characters coming and going in the blink of an eye, or used as mere fodder for the gruesome frolics of our undisclosed serial killer.

And as the tale creeps towards its final show of cards, Hutson lays down one final (but very far from monumental) twist, to see the tale draw to an end with an exciting and utterly riveting finale.  Yeah, it’s certainly not his best work.  But it certainly has its charms (yeah…I’m thinking back to that glorious microwave scene again).

Worth a read.  But don’t go expecting too much from it.

The novel runs for a total of 288 pages.

© DLS Reviews

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