Length: 6 Hrs 51 Min
Quick Thoughts: With each tale of The Books of Blood, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights.
Nearly 25 years ago, after receiving my first paycheck as a 15 year old working a horrible job doing phone surveys about soda and car repair, I walked into The Oxford Valley Mall’s Waldenbooks and bought my first adult books. Before this moment, I had very little control over the books I could read. Most I got from the public or school library and they had to be cleared with my mother. The few times I got my hands on unapproved books, like when my cousin slipped me a copy of Lord Foul’s Bane, I was caught, scolded for introducing satanic things like magic into my brain and forced to return to my copies of The Three Investigators or Agatha Christie or steal copies of my sister’s Danielle Steel or VC Andrews novel, secure in the thoughts that incest and sexual abuse was in no way as devastating as magical rings and Giants. Now, here I was, unsupervised, with my own money, ready to buy my own books. I picked out three novels, one was Stephen King’s It, which of course I loved. I had read Cujo and Christine before, which were, unbeknownst to my mother, available in my school library, so I knew what I was expecting. I also picked up a novel by a new to me author named Dean Koontz, The Bad Place, which sent me into a voracious need to read all his books. Finally, I picked up Clive Barker’s The Damnation Game. The Damnation game scared the hell out of me. I’m not sure I really got the surreal horror style, and some of the images truly disturbed me. I think I may have been too young at the time for that novel. I wanted tales with monsters and kids in peril, and strange weird science fictioney stuff, and I think Barker’s tale was a little beyond me at the time. It would be years later before I returned to one of his novels, the Fantasy tale of Imajica, and was blown away buy his writing.
The Books of Blood is a short story collection told in a framework of stories written into the skin of a huckster medium when he was brought into investigate strange haunted house. This first volume had five unique and diverse tales spanning the themes of horror. I have always enjoyed short story collections, although I rarely listen to them in audio. One thing that impressed me with this collection is that for each story, I made an assumption early on in the tale, and each time Barker took the story in ways that surprised me. Most surprising of all was the dark humor that infused some of the tales. With the gruesome framework of the series, I was expecting a full on assault of dark and horrific tales and while he delivered on that, he also managed to make me laugh along the way. My favorite tale of the collection had to be The Yattering and Jack, a story of a battle of wills between a gherkin salesman and the demons assigned to drive him crazy. This story was full of such fun, funny moments that I didn’t expect some of the twists along the way. Being that it’s Zombie Awareness Month, it was nice to see that there was a story dealing with the living dead of a sort. In Sex, Death and Starshine, a struggling theatre is putting on a production of Twelth Night staring a vapid soap actress. When a strange accident befalls the star, the director finds the most odd of replacements, who finds an audience all her own. I loved this story. It started out strange to me, but I was instantly thrust into the story through a menagerie of outrageous characters. The Midnight Meat Train started as a traditional New York City serial killer tale, but takes a strange turn. Talking about strange, the last two tales had some of the most bizarre horror imagery I had ever read. and I won’t even describe them here because it may lessen the impact for those who end up reading. With each tale, Barker proves himself a modern master of horror, who uses his reader’s expectations to good effect, hooking you in, then shocking you in twisted and disturbing ways. The Books of Blood is a strong collection of horror takes that should, at times, make you laugh while inserting nightmarish visions into your brain to disturb your nights,
Audiobook producers tend to take two approaches when casting anthologies, they either hire a single narrator to read all the tales, or they cast each story. Luckily, Crossroads Press took the later approach to casting, bringing in a strong group of narrators, each suited to the tale. Chris Patton started it off with the framework tale. Despite it being short Patton pulled all the creepiness out of the tale, and slung it right into the faces of the listeners. Jeffrey Kafer read The Midnight Meat Train. What I enjoyed about Kafer’s reading was that he didn’t fall into traditional stereotypical voices. I hate when a character runs into some conspiracy spouting dude at a bar in NYC and they make him sound like a West Virginian hick. Kafer created authentic characters and had a keen sense of pacing as the train sped to it’s horrific finale. Dick Hill was the perfect choice for The Yattering and Jack. His precise pacing accentuated the humor of the tale, upping each absurd moment to the max. Peter Berkrot’s reading of Pig Blood Blues gave me chills, balancing the matter of fact protagonist of the story with the ethereal tones. Sometimes when you become familiar with a narrator, you start imagining them in the role of the protagonist of the story you are reading. So, I wasn’t happy hearing Simon Vance describe the sexual encounters of Theater director Terry Calloway. Other than that, Vance gave his typical performance, which is spot on. The highlight of his story was the theatrical Mr. Litchfield which Vance captured perfectly. Finally, there was Chet Williamson. This was my first time listening to one of Williamson’s narrations, and I felt he had just the right raw creepiness in his tone. Honestly, this story, In the Hills, the Cities, was probably the tale I struggled with the most. It took me a bit to get into, but Williamson’s reading of the stunning finale was paced wonderfully creating one of the most strangely beautiful moments of the audiobook. The Books of Blood is an excellent audio production of one of the masters of horror. Even the stories that I struggled with managed to find a place in my nightmare, thanks largely to the excellent work of the narrators.
Special Thanks to Crossroad Press for providing me with a copy of the title for review.
2013 Zombie Awareness Month