Bound up in the intriguing notion of a demon imprisoned in the pages of a 14th century relic, 'Mister B. Gone' seems to promise all the dark brilliance for which Barker is famed. But despite a mind-bending angle that guarantees instantly compulsive reading, the story falls somewhat short of the excellence fans would doubtless expect from this modern-day master of horror.
In a tale reluctantly told by silver-tongued hellspawn Jakabok Botch (better known as Mister B.), the reader is immediately ordered to “burn this book” in an ingenious move that entices us to read on from the very opening line. After much pleading, threatening and hateful taunting, Barker's demonic anti-hero reveals the fantastical story of his escape from the underworld to earth, where our two-tailed protagonist receives a less than warm reception from humankind. Hinged on an epic power struggle between hellish and celestial forces, 'Mister B. Gone' is crammed with otherworldly wonders and horrors served up with a generous side of black comedy and stomach-churning gore. Whether bathing in the blood of freshly-slaughtered infants or torturing the clergy, Mister B. spins a gruesome and unexpectedly thought-provoking yarn that paints a particularly ugly portrait of humanity.
But, while there's no shortage of carnage throughout, Barker's characters are often poorly fleshed-out and thus hard to identify with, as a host of sketchy victims are casually dispatched, leaving the reader detached from the spine-chilling horrors that might have been. Still, those seeking a satisfying fix of gore porn will be far from disappointed. Leaping across decades, ages and supernatural realms with much of the same casual nonchalance, Barker's sense of space and time is similarly hazy, and hence difficult to navigate.
Character development aside, the worst offender to be found within these nevertheless entertaining pages is Mister B's repeated demands that the reader set fire to his leather-bound prison. While the request made for an enticing opener in the first chapter, its persistent repetition begins to grate to the point of annoyance as the story unfolds. And though the idea at the heart of 'Mister B. Gone' smacks of greatness, this promising spark of genius sadly fails to ignite.