I seem to remember getting this when I was, at most, mid-teens and likely at a flea market when visiting my grandparents. As such, I kind of forgot that I had it for a surprisingly long time. When I picked it up again, I had to laugh a bit because the blurb sounded uncannily like the novel version of the song “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” by The Adverts. It gave me the impression that it would be a goofy sort of pulp horror novel. It lied.
Victims follows Frank Miller, a special effects technician who is blinded in a freak on the set of his latest film. Terrified at the idea that his career could be over so quickly, he jumps at the chance for a transplant that could be his only chance to regain his sight. What he doesn’t know is that his new eye was donated by a murderer, and he discovers that he can now see an aura around people who are destined to be murdered. Coincidentally, there also happens to be a serial killer going around, imitating the killing styles of infamous murderers. So, when the inevitable confrontation occurs, will Frank be able to put a stop to the carnage?
I thought that I was going to like this a lot more than I did. Maybe this was due to starting Victims under the assumption that it would be a lot more kitsch than it actually was. There’s a quote on the cover that was a lot more prophetic than I would have ever given it credit for. It reads as such: “You can’t read Shaun Hutson for more than a minute or two without starting to squirm.” It’s about the most accurate thing that could ever be said about this book and it will be instrumental in deciding whether this book is for you. For me, it was too much. I very much regretted reading this during my pre-work breakfast and lunch break at times, because there were some days where I started feeling genuinely queasy as a result. The majority of the queasiness came from either the murder scenes, which were so detailed as to be almost pornographic and not quite over-the-top gory enough to start being silly, or the occasional male gaze scene that delved into levels of obsessiveness that was toe-curlingly awful to read. But I can handle being uncomfortable. I got used to it after a few of these kinds of scenes. What I couldn’t really look past was the fact that I couldn’t actually bring myself to like the main protagonist at all.
Those of you who read my review of Out will likely be wondering why this is such a big issue here, and not there. In Out, the characters weren’t really what you could term as good, but at the very least it was easy enough to understand why they did the things that they did. In Victims, I couldn’t help but think of Frank as having an entirely alien way of thinking. At the beginning, I figured that his irritability and obvious dislike of basically anyone who doesn’t think along the same lines as him was a reaction to being in a horrific accident and trying to reconcile with the fact that he might never be able to work in his chosen profession again. It was only afterwards, when he had his sight back, that it became clear just how creepy he really is. The part that sticks in my mind is a section where he has a disagreement with one of the actresses on-set. He’s gone to fetch her for a make-up session, as the next part she’s in requires near total coverage, but she refuses to go because she doesn’t want to work under a load of latex and in the process she insults his work. Fine, I can understand getting mad because she’s being both unprofessional and unnecessarily personal. What I don’t get is the reaction that he has; in addition to getting angry, he hurls a chair at her and then later sends her an uncannily realistic facsimile of her boyfriend’s decapitated head. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen. Sending people to hospital for shock because they didn’t want to work in heavy make-up, with no regrets at all upon hearing about it. I don’t know about you, but I am significantly less inclined to like this guy when he’s just as dangerous as the bad guy. Especially when the implication that he uses genuine human body parts in his work crops up, a baby in a microwave being a particularly graphic moment of this. I wanted him dead, so badly that it’s almost untrue.
And the other thing that bothers me is that the whole being able to see people predestined to be murder victims thing was less than fantastically portrayed. Firstly, not a fan of actual murder victims being mentioned in the section where he “proves” that he can see this aura; it might just be me, but I think that victims of serial killers, in particular the child victims of the Moors Murders, deserve more respect than that. Secondly, it just sort of vanishes after a little while after it’s served its purpose. Frank mentions it to his police colleague working on the serial killer case, gets understandably dismissed, then mentions the ability as a way of speaking to a journalist following the case, predicts one murder not even related to the case, then it just never turns up again. After he’s proved to one person that he can see these auras, it’s never brought up again as a main plot detail again. His getting involved more closely in the case isn’t actually because of the eye, it’s because of his relationship with the journalist. So really, it could have been replaced by anything else. I’d have personally gone for “the murderer is imitating scenes from horror movies you’ve worked on” as a tie to it, as it at least gives him more reason to be in contact with the killer and the police.
I had such hopes for this. I know that I came in expecting it to be a lot cornier than it was, but I didn’t expect it to leave such a bad taste in my mouth. The gore and male gaze stuff is very uncomfortable to read, but that is at least obvious and easy to make a judgement on. You either can’t stand it or you can, and I trust that most readers will instinctively have a feel for that. I just felt that the main character was too similar to the main villain for me to make a connection with. There was nothing about him that I could empathise with, and it just removed whatever stakes there were because nothing good could come of either of them “winning”. The fact that the part of the main premise that I was really looking forward to was largely superfluous is just the cherry on top of my disappointment. I guess I’d recommend this if you like your horror gory and in bad taste, but quite honestly I’d give it a miss. 2/5
Next review: The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa