OR: Lucifer’s Ark

The first part of a feature on the work of Simon Clark that originally appeared in Black Static #8:-


Simon Clark’s first book was the short story collection Blood & Grit, from BBR Books and, coincidentally, Blood & Grit was the very first book I ever reviewed in a now long forgotten magazine called Dreams, back in 1990. Five years later Clark’s first novel, Nailed By the Heart, was picked up by Hodder & Stoughton and he’s been a mainstay of horror fiction ever since, even at a time when other writers have been forced into midlist/small press obscurity or started pushing ‘horror by any other name’ novels. And if you want further evidence that the guy has stayed true to his roots, then check out the address of his website at the end of the interview that follows.

So, here we are in 2008 and I’m still reviewing Simon Clark books. The more things change, the more they stay the same (and that sounds so much classier in French).

Lucifer’s Ark (Severn House paperback, 250pp, £10.99) is Clark doing what he does best, telling an exciting, action packed story, and throwing more twists at the reader than a King Cobra trying to bite its own tail. Flooding at an isolated mining community means the workers have to stay on over Christmas, and so the good ship Volspar sets sails across the Baltic with a contingent of wives and girlfriends, and also the pump which is to save the day at the mine. The ship is taken over by heavily armed mercenaries, whose game plan involves advertising to the world at large that they are the top dogs of the killers for hire industry by slaughtering passengers on camera and broadcasting the scenes on the internet. So far, so Under Siege with lashings of gore to go, but Clark has another twist up his sleeve. Deep in the hold of the ship are special containment cells in which convicted psychopaths are being transported to foreign gaols and, as an extra fillip of chaos intended to keep the victims on their toes, these prisoners are released by the mercenaries. It’s a serious error of judgement, and with the crew disposed of the stage is set for a three way fight to the finish between mercenaries, passengers and psychopaths, and at this point Clark probably started looking round for a kitchen sink, but instead he comes up with a ships’ graveyard and a killer whale.

If all that sounds a bit breathless, then you’ve got the idea, but Clark stage manages these disparate elements with consummate showmanship, and his control of the material never falters. The reader can take nothing for granted as the battle teeters first one way and then the other, with brutal fire fights and bloody butchery, a succession of life or death struggles in which the characters’ mettle is tested, with some found wanting and others pushed into acts of heroism they thought beyond them.

Central to the story are two of the WAGS, heroine Tanya and the imperious, self-proclaimed psychic Isis. Tanya is the quintessential sensible person, ‘final girl’ material in horror film parlance, who plays off against all the others, from the pompous take charge engineers accompanying the pump to the mercenary with a heart Tunnock, from the lounge lizard singer to the gonzo ‘Quilp’ hunter (a mercenary on the rampage), along the way discovering her own self-worth. Isis is her polar opposite and a particular delight, a woman who is amoral and manipulative, willing to do whatever it takes and sacrifice anybody else so that she will survive and her agenda prosper.

Elsewhere, while society judges one group mad, Clark seems intent on showing that there is not much difference between the mercenaries and psychopaths. Although ten killers are set free, he sensibly directs his efforts towards only three of them, giving these larger than life characters distinct traits. The Toad can only function by preying on the life force of others; Maya inflicts pain because it is something she cannot experience herself and so seeks to understand by observing how it affects others; Sami is fascinated by eyelashes and thinks that he is close to perfecting an all-cure. They have their reasons for what they do, symptomatic of their individual insanities no doubt, but preferable to the collective madness of the mercenaries, who are willing to butcher innocent adults and even children for money. Of the two groups, Clark makes the psychopaths seem, not more human, but certainly more explicable, and there is an extra frisson in the hint that the mercenaries attacking the ship belong to the same organisation as those guarding the prisoners in the hold, that they are willing to sacrifice their own for the cause.

In many ways, regardless of the gore quotient, this is an old fashioned melodrama and moral fable, one where you cheer the heroes and hiss the bad guys, and hang on to the ending in the hope that each will get what they deserve. From first line to last, it’s an impressive slice of horror hokum and thrill a minute entertainment, and crying out for somebody to make it into a big budget Hollywood production.


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1 Response to OR: Lucifer’s Ark

  1. Pingback: OR: Stone Cold Calling/Vengeance Child | Trumpetville

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