Book review: Deadhead by Shaun Hutson

ShaunDeadhead by Shaun Hutson

[From Critical Wave #32, 1993. Originally released by Little, Brown, a single paperback ombibus twinning this novel with 1998’s Purity was issued by Time Warner in 2004; both editions are currently available via Amazon.]


Shaun Hutson claims he launched his career as a bestselling horror novelist after reading a particularly dismal effort from Britain’s former king of gore, Guy N Smith. After all, Hutson reasoned, if Smith’s giant man-eating crabs could see print, even he stood a chance.

To be fair to Hutson, he is a better writer; but to be fair to Smith, there’s not a lot in it. Both owe their success to a heady cocktail of explicit violence and gratuitous sex, poured over plots which don’t so much require readers to suspect their disbelief as tie a noose around its neck and hang it from the nearest tree.

Hutson’s recent novel Captives, for instance, asked us to accept that a prison governor would allow an insane surgeon to lobotomise the more psychopathic inmates, fake their deaths and then release them to take part in killing sprees across central London, all in the name of reducing the prison population. In comparison, even evidence from the West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad sounds believable.

This might explain why Deadhead, Hutson’s fourteenth novel under his own name, deliberately steps away from the supernatural and science fiction themes which dominated his earlier work. What his many fans may find harder to understand, however, is Hutson’s decision to confine the violence largely to the final 50 pages and to replace the regulation sex scenes with descriptions of two pornographic novels.

The book’s hero, or rather anti-hero, is cop-turned-private eye Nick Ryan, called in by his ex-wife after their daughter is kidnapped by a vicious gang of “snuff” video producers. Hutson even underlines the fact that Ryan has nothing to lose by giving him terminal cancer, though the sheer extent of the carnage at the finale may taken even regular readers by surprise.

Okay, so it’s fairly predictable, but in the age of the 30-second attention span, predictability can be a positive asset. What is new, though, is Hutson’s apparent determination to enter the ranks of the more thriller writer. Whether his existing fans are prepared to make the leap with him remains to be seen; that they might not is probably a prospect too ghastly for even Shaun Hutson to contemplate.