Book review: Coldheart Canyon

Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story.Coldheart Canyon: A Hollywood Ghost Story by Clive Barker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve shied away from Barker for a couple of years now. I’m not sure why. Like King, he’s an author who I discovered in my teens, and the combination of splatter and verbosity seemed to be something better left behind in advancing years. I’d read Cabal and some of the Books of Blood – inspired by sneaked viewings of Nightbreed and Hellraiser but I kind of found some of his weirdly sensual prose a bit on the nose.


In the interim, I understand he’s written some great stuff and some shit stuff. People I know who are fans have been alternately overjoyed and deeply disappointed at his recent work – but I’ll be investigating more closely if the quality of this one’s anything to go by.

Coldheart Canyon is a story of Hollywood. Specifically, Old Hollywood, and what it’s up to now. I don’t want to give too much away, as if you’re a film buff there’s plenty of trivia and lascivious pairings to enjoy. It’s an examination of what happens when legends die, when young Turks are just that little bit over the hill, and whether agents and studio heads are all irredeemable fuckwits. I think you can probably guess some of the answers.

Black-and-white star system creations run up against neo-action stars, with a touch of terrifying mortality. Gothic artwork features heavily, and the whole thing’s redolent of a Universal monster film – this is deeply enjoyable popcorn. The usual Barker gore is there – there’s some uniquely gross fucking involved – but there’s also an admission of light. There’s hope in here, which isn’t exactly something I would have believed ranked high on the author’s list of priorities. But it’s here and it’s dazzling, as is his examination of the onset of age and the grief one feels over dead animals. The usual walls-of-blood thing is done but these new notes intrigued me, making me feel like there was honest-to-God growth.

True, it’s long. It could do with a bit of a chop. There’s moments where certain stock phrases pop in and it feels like the narrative equivalent or marking time. But there’s polished moments of wonder, and when you add that to the You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again machinations and monster chases, there’s enough to keep you powering through to the end.

I really enjoyed this. Rolled my eyes occasionally, but I also wished the fifteen-year-old me could read it too, as I think he’d’ve enjoyed it mightily.

My GoodReads profile is here.

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