Paperback, 323 pages, $7.99
Review by Sheila Merritt
“The room would have felt closed in and dark … if not for the Christmas lights. They trailed in long sparkly strands across the shadows, white globes illuminating the horror on the floor like gently oscillating spotlights. They would have been cozy and warm … if not for the hell they revealed. Some of those long white globes were speckled in dark spots. And some of those spots were clearly, nauseatingly, crimson.”
John Everson doesn’t mince words; he slices and dices them. Yet, as close as he cuts, he manages to stop just short of butchering. In The 13th, he comes perilously close to torture porn. In Sacrifice, his previous novel, he expertly balanced between almost pandering to sadistic erotica and spinning an intriguing horror yarn. With The 13th, he crosses lines; some readers will find it offensive, others will give it more latitude. It is a highly subjective read given those implications. What is unquestionable, however, is: Everson knows how to seduce; he uses horror and sex rather like Clive Barker does: Repellent and repulsive; a warped ecstatic rhapsody.
The story line is basic, with a present day resonance: Bring the diabolical deity back to earth through impregnation and ritual sacrifice, this time adding a bit of embryonic stem cell research abuse. Blood, as is always the case in horror, is the force: “Blood is music. It sings of life. It sings of death. It pulses and twists, dances and sways.”
There is ample, indeed excessive, use of the sanguinary substance in this book. Sucked, smeared, slathered, sniffed, and salivated, the iron is ingested and indulged. Over the top? Absolutely; restraint is only a consideration as to knowing when to pull back just a bit. That bit may not be enough for some.
Now, from possibly excessive gore to probably repugnant sex and snuff: Ardent feminists will likely find this book highly reprehensible. Women are raped, tortured and maliciously murdered. Even from the distance of a third person perspective, the images are still viscerally unsettling: “She saw the dead women stacked up along the side of the stage at the front of the room, arms splayed over each other and blood covering them all like a drizzle of torment on a human corpse sundae.”
The author’s attempts at humor to offset the tension don’t work well; forced and full of sexual innuendo. Given the intensity of the action, they come off as silly. Everson is at his best when creating a malignant mood, and then building on it. He writes some splendid passages, for example: “There’s something about the aura a human being exudes. Maybe it’s just the rhythm of breath, or the animal faculties in our back brain that still instantly pick up the scent of prey.”
In The 13th, the author again pushes the envelope. His potent extreme horror requires a high level of tolerance; emotional as well as intellectual. John Everson has guts, and clearly likes to explore and tamper with boundaries. He is a good enough writer that he can get away with murder; as well as multitudes of morbid mayhem.