Poland at the end of World War II. Our protagonist, unnamed, a thief, is looking for a man named Mamoulian – a gambler who never loses.
Move forward a few dozen years where Marty Strauss, a prisoner in the United kingdom, is offered early, supervised release. The condition? He will go to work for a wealthy recluse, Joseph Whitehead. How hard can it be? It has to be better than rotting away in prison, right?
When Strauss finally finds himself in Whitehead’s inner sanctuary he learns that Whitehead is trying to get himself out from an oath he doesn’t think he even made in the first place with a certain Mamoulian many years ago. But is this nothing more than part of a (Damnation) game?
This book is a reprint, originally published in 1985, and apparently this was author Clive Barker’s first novel. (I’m familiar with Barker but not what I would consider a huge fan so I’m not familiar with his body of work). One of the nice things about good horror fiction is that it doesn’t really go out of style. As long as humans are reading it, the terror that it is universal to most people will continue to invoke horror.
Barker throws in a little bit of everything – cannibalism, incest, monsters, animal abuse – and the visuals vary from the swanky mansion with all its opulence, to rotting meat with maggots. It definitely has all the hallmarks of a first novel in which the author packs the book with all forms of horror with the hopes that something will stick with each reader.
The prose is delicious and it’s Barker’s writing style that keeps the reader interested, more than the story itself. The basic story is is quite interesting, but it gets a little lost behind all the splatter thrown up.
Barker is the creative behind the Hellraiser films (writer and director of the first film) and we can see some of what will come out in that first film here in this early novel. It is dark and gritty and that touch of the supernatural really keeps the reader on edge.
It is great to have this re-released so that a new generation of horror readers can experience this first novel by a horror master.
Looking for a good book? The Damnation Game is a new edition of Clive Barker’s earliest novel and fans of the horror genre should make sure to put this on their reading list.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.
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The Damnation Game
author: Clive Barker
publisher: Berkley Books
paperback, 496 pages