Marty Strauss--former boxer, compulsive gambler, and unsuccessful thief--is so glad to be a free man again that he does not think twice about accepting the position as Joseph Whitehead’s personal bodyguard. Bothersome details, however, surface on the job. Whitehead’s daughter, Carys, is imprisoned on the estate grounds and fed heroin which her father obtains for her. Whitehead’s closest aide, Bill Toy, hints at the impending ruin of the old man’s financial empire. Whitehead himself seems intent on testing Marty’s mettle, both spiritual and physical.
All becomes clearer when a mysterious intruder named Mamoulian appears on the grounds, possessing powers that Marty cannot fathom. Whitehead tells Marty that he made a pact long ago with Mamoulian, in the ruins of post-Nazi Warsaw. Now Mamoulian has come to collect his due for ensuring Whitehead’s success. Whitehead fears that Mamoulian is Satan incarnate, as the man has the ability to shape the will of others and reanimate the dead. In his desire to save the lovely Carys from the clutches of her father as well as Mamoulian, Marty finds that he must play a game that risks death and damnation for the chance to live free again.
Clive Barker has been hailed by several critics as “the British Stephen King” ever since he appeared on the horror scene scant years ago. Barker, however, often exalts style and language over the driving plot machinery that is King’s trademark. In his earlier books--all compilations of short novellas--Barker showed a tendency to lose the thread of narration in endless description of illusion and fantasy. In THE DAMNATION GAME, however, his first novel, he shows great facility at sustaining book-length story and characters, indulging his penchant for psychedelic imagery only at the climax. Here is one new writer whose follow-up work at least partially fulfills the promise of his splashy debut.