Friday, December 1, 2017

Helraiser: The Toll, by Mark Alan Miller

 Time was, I'd have been going nuts at the thought of a new Clive Barker Hellraiser story, but the years have been kind to neither the Hellraiser brand, nor author/creator Clive Barker himself. One of my most anticipated books in the past decade or so was Barker's THE SCARLET GOSPELS, a long-gestating finale to the Hellraiser mythology that was, to put it bluntly, one of the most disappointing books I have ever read. I swore after that debacle that I was done with Barker. And that stands. But I might not be through with Barker via Mark Alan Miller.

 Miller previously novelized Barker's concepts in CLIVE BARKER'S NEXT TESTAMENT, which I thought was a flawed but fascinating book, and he returns here in HELLRAISER: THE TOLL, a slim novella that takes place before the accursed THE SCARLET GOSPELS, which finally reveals just what Kirsty Cotton has been up to since her first encounter with Pinhead (Or, as he's known to her, "The Cold Man"...) in Barker's novella THE HELLBOUND HEART.

 First off, be aware that this novella seems to disregard everything HELLRAISER except for THE HELLBOUND HEART/the HELLRAISER movie, and serves as a prequel/side story to THE SCARLET GOSPELS. I hated that novel immensely, so some of the things alluded to at the end of this story may have slipped past me. I swear, I remember almost nothing about THE SCARLET GOSPELS aside from my hatred of it. I vaguely recall Pinhead's plot to conquer Hell, but I didn't give half a shit about it. Here, we find Pinhead moving in that direction, but approaching Kirsty to be his witness before settling on Harry D'amour in the novel.

 HELLRAISER: THE TOLL finds Kirsty still running from the agents of Hell, living out of a suitcase and assuming a variety of identities over the past three decades. (I love stories that do this, yet ever explain where the character gets the money to stay in hotels every night, to say nothing of how they afford food, clothes, transportation, etc. If I had to go on the run, I have enough available cash to make it to my front lawn. No farther. Sorry, but this is a pet peeve of mine. I could accept someone running for decades, but tell me how they pay for it, at least.) Kirsty receives a mysterious letter that makes her realize that it is better to confront her pursuer than to spend her life on the run, which leads to a dark reunion with The Cold Man on the former French penal colony, the aptly named Devil's Island.

 Miller's prose rings of early Clive Barker's authorial voice, which is a good thing. To me, Barker was never better than in THE BOOKS OF BLOOD series and his first few novels. Since this is such a short story, much of it taken up with Kirsty's memories of the events in THE HELLBOUND HEART, Miller doesn't have a lot of room to work with, so he stays on target and gets right to the point. The ending seems to point in the direction of another Miller novella to come, and I'm cool with that. If Barker is lost to me forever, at least I'll have someone who can channel and focus his ideas into something readable.

 (The novella features illustrations by Barker, but don't get too excited....most of them are little thumbnail doodles that open chapters, and they, along with a few larger ones, have nothing do do with the story. I suspect, based on one illustration that bears the name "Ectokid", a character Barker created for Marvel Comics who does not appear in this novella, that Miller just raided a Barker sketchbook for a few likely candidates. If you're only interested in the Barker art, I'd advise you to take a pass.)

 HELLRAISER: THE TOLL earns a surprising seven out of ten Lament Configurations:

 Subterranean Press provided a review copy.

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