Sometimes, the best stories are the most difficult to explain. When you try to explain a plot line to others, they look at you funny because you’re telling them what, possibly, sounds like the stupidest, lamest thing ever to be thrust on them, the movie-going, book-reading public. For example, “Pig Blood Blues.”
“Pig Blood Blues” can be found in Barker’s Books of Blood, Volume 1. The entirety of the Books of Blood are required reading for diehard horror fans, and all the stories in Volume 1 are classics. With “The Midnight Meat Train” and “In the Hills, the Cities” included in the first volume, I think it really says something that “Pig Blood Blues” is the one that got to me. It’s one of a handful of stories I read yearly.
In the story, disgraced former policeman, Redman, accepts a job at a juvenile detention center. This is not the kind of place shoplifting youths are sent to, this is a home for young criminals of a violent nature. A therapist at the facility, Dr. Leverthal, is a woman, herself, of questionable means and motives.
Redman befriends Thomas Lacey, an object of abuse for the other boys. Befriends may be overstating it as their friendship is tenuous at best. Redman feels sorry for the boy, protective of him. Lacey is distrustful of most everyone, especially those in authority.
It is from Lacey that Redman learns of Hennessey. Hennessey, an eighteen year old inmate who had an affair with Leverthal, is dead, possibly from foul play. Also, Hennessey’s ghost is haunting the place. Haunting is another term to use loosely, since Hennessey’s spirit may be possessing a rather large sow that is part of the institution’s farm project.
Trust me, I’m not giving anything away with that tidbit of information.
The whole thing may sound a little (even a lot) ridiculous, but Barker pulls it off. “Pig Blood Blues” works as a mystery and a horror story– a visceral horror story with shocking twists and implications. The story sucks you in and, by the time of the catastrophic ending, it’s fully believable.
It’s hard to imagine Clive Barker having hidden gems among his oeuvre, but it seems this story receives less notice when his “greatest hits” are discussed. That’s a shame because it delivers quite the gut punch.