Saturday, July 7, 2018

Book Review: In the Flesh

Book Review: 'In the Flesh' by Clive Barker
4 / 5 Stars

The four novellas / short stories that make up 'In the Flesh' first were published in 1986 in the UK as The Books of Blood: Volume 5. This Pocket Books paperback (255 pp) repackaging of these stories for a U.S. readership was published in January, 1988, and features cover art by Jim Warren.

In the title novella, Cleve, an inmate in a British prison, gets a new cellmate, a young man named William 'Billy' Tait. Cleve soon discovers that Billy Tait has the ability to exit the cell and wander in another dimension during the hours of darkness. 

This is the weakest entry in the collection; although the premise is an interesting one, Barker doesn't do much with it other than to paint word pictures of strange, twilight landscapes.

'The Forbidden' is the novelette that formed the basis of the 1992 feature film Candyman. A graduate student named Helen Buchanan, who is writing her thesis on 'Graffitti: The Semiotics of Urban Despair', investigates a notorious murder committed in a public restroom at a decaying Liverpool apartment complex. 

This novelette has stood the test of time as a classic 80s horror tale. While Ramsey Campell, another well-known, Liverpool- based horror writer, often used the urban areas of the city as a backdrop for his stories written during the 70s and 80s, Barker is head and shoulders above him with his own skillful use of the setting of a trash-strewn, vandalized housing project as an apt setting for a creepy story.

In 'The Madonna', Jerry Coloqhuon, an aspiring dealmaker, tries to persuade a local mobster named Ezra Garvey to invest in an abandoned swimming pool and bathing complex. But both Coloqhuon and Garvey are astounded to discover that within the dark and humid corridors of the complex lurks a group of nubile young women whose ministrations have a dark purpose.........this is another of the standout entries in 'In the Flesh', with the dilapidated pool complex being a particularly effective setting for a horror tale. 

The closing story, 'Babel's Children', takes place in Greece, where a vacationing Vanessa Jape finds herself lost in a remote area well off the beaten path. Seeking directions, Jape stumbles upon what seems to be a convent, only to learn that this seemingly tranquil structure is all that stands between world peace....... and World War Three. 'Babel's Children' is not really a horror story, but more of an entry in the genre of sardonic-humor tale that Roald Dahl was particularly skillful at creating. 

The verdict ? More than 30 years after its publication, 'In the Flesh' remains a strong collection of horror stories and a good reminder of Barker's skills as a writer. His fans will of course want to have a copy of either this U.S. paperback, or its UK equivalent. 

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