Book Review: Wetbones by John Shirley

A genuine splatterpunk classic that blows most other horror books out of the water.

Tom Prentice has to identify the strangely emaciated and mutilated body of his ex-wife. A reverend’s daughter is kidnapped by a creep who can violate minds as well as bodies. Human remains start turning up on the streets of LA, pulped beyond all recognition. All threads lead to the Double Key Ranch, a spawning ground of fathomless hunger and perversion.

WETBONES is a rare treat, beautifully executed in so many ways. The dialogue is great, the characters are well realized, the prose is sleek with well-chosen moments of captivating richness. There’s almost no fat on the book; we get just enough information to propel things along at a perfect pace. Best of all, WETBONES feels truly original. It also tackles truly disturbing subject matter and delves into genuine existential fears. Are human beings just meat machines, programmed by animal impulses of pleasure and reward? Where do we sit in the murky zone between free will and biology, between choice and addiction, spirit and flesh? Shirley tackles these themes in a gloriously hideous way. WETBONES is truly gruesome, but the scenes of trauma and cruelty never feel gratuitous or simply intended to shock. They feel organic, vital, necessary.

If I had to compare this to something else, I’d say it’s somewhat like a cross between THE HELLBOUND HEART and HPL’s “From Beyond,” except that it’s better than both and truly original in so many ways. This one’s in my top ten horror books of all time.