Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Damnation Game - Clive Barker

    1985; 433 pages.  New Author? : Nope, but this is only my second book by him.  Genre : Horror; Suspense.  Overall Rating : 8½*/10.

    Marty Strauss is getting out of prison early!  Well yes, it is a conditional parole, and he’ll be confined to the grounds of Joseph Whitehead’s sprawling estate.  But it's better than sharing a cell at te penitentiary, and he’ll even get paid for his new job: he'll be the personal bodyguard of Mr. Whitehead himself.

    The work itself looks easy enough.  There’s a wall around the perimeter of the estate, and barbed wire atop of that.  There’s a pack of Alsatian guard dogs trained to tear into any intruder.  There are several others on the staff who will keep an eye out for strangers as well.  And there are cameras monitoring the entire house and grounds.  The Devil himself couldn’t get into Joseph Whitehead’s mansion without being detected and intercepted.

     But you’d better be careful, Marty.  Old Man Whitehead may be crazy, but there’s a reason for his paranoia.  And if the Devil does come calling, you’re expected to sacrifice your life for the sake of your employer.

What’s To Like...
    The Damnation Game was Clive Barker’s debut full-length novel, but he had already established himself as a promising author of Horror tales via his set of six short stories, Books of Blood.  The settings in TDG are sparse, and the first, World War 2 Warsaw, is almost entirely confined to the Prologue.  The rest of the book takes place at various spots in the greater London area.

    There’s about a hundred pages of world-building to plod through at the beginning, but this was also true of the other Clive Barker book I read, which is reviewed here.  Structurally, the book is perfect, evolving steadily from a relatively peaceful, if somewhat dysfunctional, start to abject terror, as Joseph Whitehead’s adversary lays siege to Marty and company and everyone else at the mansion.  The tension builds throughout the story to an exciting showdown at the end.  Clive Barker knows how to write a horror story.

    I liked the UE (Ultimate Evil), he is incredibly powerful, and yet is neither omnipotent nor omniscient.  His henchman are also suitably scary, and, in the case of his two missionaries, also a bit funny.  The backstory for the UE also gets recounted, which I appreciated.  He is a resourceful chap (aren’t all well-crafted UE’s?), and his way of “scouting” Whitehead’s mansion was quite innovative.

    The Damnation Game is written in “English”, as opposed to “American”, but it’s hardly noticeable.  R-rated stuff abounds, but hey, wouldn't “cozy horror story” be an oxymoron?  This is a standalone novel, and ANAICT, there is no sequel, although I am certainly not an expert on Clive Barker’s bibliography.  Finally, the last chapter is a way-kewl epilogue that wraps things up nicely.

Kewlest New Word...
Doggo (adv.) : remaining motionless and quiet to escape detection.
Others : Welter (n.); Baize (n.); Farrago (n.); Unblenched (adj.); Peristalsis (n.).

    She picked up the receiver and dialed nineteen, the number of Marty’s bedroom.  It rang once, then again.  She willed him to wake quickly.  Her reserves of control were, she knew, strictly limited.
    “Come on, come on . . . “ she breathed.
    Then there was a sound behind her; heavy feet crunched the glass into smaller pieces.  She turned to see who it was, and there was a nightmare standing in the doorway with a knife in his hand and a dogskin over one shoulder.  The phone slipped form her fingers, and the part of her that had advised panic all along took the reins.
    Told you so, it shouted.  Told you so!  (pg. 185)

    The Deluge descended in the driest July in living memory; but then no revisionist’s dream of Armageddon is complete without its paradox.  Lightning appeared out of a clear sky; flesh turned to salt; the meek inheriting the earth: all unlikely phenomena.
    That July, however, there were no spectacular transformations.  No celestial lights appeared in the clouds.  No rains of salamanders or children.  If angels came and went that month – if the looked-for Deluge broke – then it was, like the truest Armageddon, metaphor.  (pg. 277)

“You call me ridiculous.  You.  A talking fog.”  (pg. 314)
    The Damnation Game came highly recommended to me by a friend who considers it Clive Barker’s finest effort, and it did not disappoint.  It didn’t leave me cringing in fear, the way some J.A. Konrath’s books do (such as the one reviewed here), but I did keep worrying the whole way through about how Marty could possibly defeat such as powerful UE.

    The quibbles are minor, and by and large mirrors those I had with the other Clive Barker book I’ve read.  The plot is interesting, but not particularly twisty.  The character development is superb, but it felt like everyone got their predictably just desserts.  The storytelling is great, yet this is by no mean a quick read.

    But I pick at nits.  I enjoyed The Damnation Game, and that says something about the author’s writing skills, since I am not a big fan of the Horror genre.  I have one more Clive Barker book on my ever-expanding TBR shelf, Abarat, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I read it later this year.

    8½ Stars.  Add ½ star if you’re a fan of Dean Koontz.  I found the tone of The Damnation Game to be quite similar to his.

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