Thief of Always

Thief of Always

4.5 102
by Clive Barker

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Mr. Hood's Holiday House has stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace. It is a place of miracles, a blissful rounds of treats and seasons, where every childhood whim may be satisfied...There is a price to be paid, of course, but young Harvey Swick, bored with his life and beguiled by Mr. Hood's wonders, does not stop to consider the… See more details below


Mr. Hood's Holiday House has stood for a thousand years, welcoming countless children into its embrace. It is a place of miracles, a blissful rounds of treats and seasons, where every childhood whim may be satisfied...There is a price to be paid, of course, but young Harvey Swick, bored with his life and beguiled by Mr. Hood's wonders, does not stop to consider the consequences. It is only when the House shows it's darker face — when Harvey discovers the pitiful creatures that dwell in its shadows — that he comes to doubt Mr. Hood's philanthropy.The House and its mysterious architect are not about to release their captive without a battle, however. Mr. Hood has ambitious for his new guest, for Harvey's soul burns brighter than any soul he has encountered in a thousand years...

Editorial Reviews

New York Newsday
Taut pacing and sound structure…None of Clive Barker's admirers are likely to go away disappointed.
Denver Post
A wonderful story for adults and teenagers, profusely illustrated by the author.
Miami Herald
Menacing demons, wondrous miracles, sinister magic, and vivid characters make Thief a compulsive, lightning-paced tales that almost begs to be read aloud.
Virginia Pilot/Ledger Star
Certain to satisfy anyone who just wants to take a fun little trip into one of Barker's worlds.
An impressive piece of storytelling.
The interplay between innocence and evil does have a refreshing familiarity.
Camden Courier-Post
Barker's prose is as solid as ever, and to this book he lends his artistic talents with impish pen-and-ink illustrations.
Rocky Mountain News
Appropriate for all ages.
Atlanta Journal
L.A. Life
Barker's most ambitious work to date...Rapturously full of emotions.
Washington Post Book World
Rich in plot twists, byzantine intrigues and hidden secrets, Imajica is a Chinese puzzle box constructed on a universal scale...Barker has an unparalleled talent forenvisioning other worlds.
Publishers Weekly
When a 10-year-old boy wishes to be delivered from a boring afternoon, a creature takes him to the Holiday House. "Barker masterfully embroiders this fantasy world with a mounting number of grim, even gruesome details," wrote PW, "in a tale that manages to be both cute and horrifying." Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
Ten-year-old Harvey Swick is bored. He's bored with his parents, he's bored with school, he's bored with "the great gray beast February" and its dismal, dreary days. When the fanciful character Rictus offers Harvey a retreat at the enticing Holiday House, Harvey scarcely gives it a second thought. Soon enough, he's whisked away to a magical place where all the seasons go through their paces each day, and all the best holidays, from Halloween to Christmas, are celebrated in high style. Soon, though, the house begins to show a darker side; what is that foul-looking pond in the corner of the property, and why does there seem to be no way out of the house's high walls? When Harvey begins to investigate, his discoveries are frightening indeed. The novel's climactic confrontation is a little too long and results in a ham-handed moral. For the most part, however, this is an engaging fable whose occasionally nightmarish episodes nonetheless provide glimpses into the dark, even horrific images for which the author's adult works of fiction are well known. 2002 (orig. 1992), HarperTrophy,
— Norah Piehl
Ray Olson
Barker follows Stephen King's lead this year in significantly reducing his page count (this one's shorter yet than its stated 240 pages, for there's a blank spacer page, a full-page frontispiece, and a title page for each of its 26 chapters) and coming up with a much better book. He calls this one a fable, and it's about 10-year-old Harvey Swick who's so bored one dreary February day that he is enticed by a curious, grinning conman--appropriately named Rictus--to come to Mr. Hood's Holiday House. There the seasons go round in what seems to be a single day, play is always fun, and whatever you want, you get, even when it's impersonating a vampire so well you scare the living daylights out of your friend--and yourself. But there's a viscous, foreboding black lake full of huge, sad-eyed fish and only two other children around despite a huge cache of children's clothing, some of which looks centuries old. Then one of the other kids turns into a fish, and Harvey knows he must get away. Harvey, of course, is the hero who eventually discovers and conquers the elusive, evil Mr. Hood, whose power stems from giving in to pure appetite, electing exciting illusion over mundane reality. Indebted to Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes" and the episode of King's "Waste Lands" in which Jake escapes the house-monster, Barker's fantasy is, for him, abnormally absorbing and provocative. Here, Barker seems to be stout second fiddle to King, the Thackeray to his Dickens, for the first time.
Kirkus Reviews
Is it penance? Cockiness? A final burst of youth? Whatever the reasons, in recent years, several middle-aging horror authors have written children's books (rarely marketed as such): Whitley Strieber's Wolf of Shadows (1985); Stephen King's The Eyes of the Dragon (1987); Dean Koontz's Oddkins (1988)—and now, from Barker, a "fable" about a wish-granting house that may be the weakest of the lot. Barker's adult novels (Imajica, 1991, etc.) deal with the play between our world and fabulous alternate realities. Here, too, the hero—ten-year-old Harvey Swick—encounters another world, by having his cry of boredom answered by a yellow-skinned man named Rictus who flies through Harvey's bedroom window and offers to take him to "Holiday House." The boy agrees and, led through a wall of fog, finds himself in a magical place where, during each 24 hours, all four seasons pass (hot, sunny afternoons; snowy winter nights, etc.) along with their holidays, including Christmas mornings that find Harvey's most cherished wishes answered beneath the tree. It's paradise, Harvey thinks at first, but soon wonders: Why is fellow- visitor Lulu so morose? What kind of fish are those, with eyes like "prisoners," lurking in the pond out back? And where is Mr. Hood, the House's wish-granting owner? In time, Harvey senses evil at work and flees, only to find that, back home, his parents have aged a year for every day at the House. And so he returns to the House, to find and battle Mr. Hood and win back his stolen years.... The House is a splendid conceit, but Harvey (Barker's first child hero) is as real as a Norman Rockwell kid, and the studiously simple narration—leached of Barker's usualX-rated, riotous imagery—lacks spirit. If this were a limited edition, it'd be a minor collector's item; with a 100,000 first printing, it's a major miscalculation. (Drawings—42—by Barker.)

San Diego Union-Tribune
“A modern fable written with literary flare and storytelling-with-a-twist style that will entertain and enchant.”
Chicago Tribune
“Barker...sets up his enchanted kingdom with plenty of wit and atmosphere.”
Library Journal
Young Harry Swick, already jaded by life, desperately wishes for some fun and excitement—which the eccentric Mr. Hood is only too happy to offer. Mr. Hood is the designer of the Holiday House, which has stood for hundreds of years as a refuge for wayward children. Seasons come and go in a day, revelries are always around the corner, but all is not as it seems in this haven. When things start to sour at Holiday House, Harry begins to suspect something malevolent in Mr. Hood's attentions, but it might already be too late. VERDICT Barker (Books of Blood) finds the perfect balance between wide-eyed wonder and the evils of lost innocence in a fantasy that reads like something Ray Bradbury would have written if he were fed a steady diet of Stephen King in his formative years. (SLJ 2/1/93)

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
4.18(w) x 6.75(h) x 0.72(d)
740L (what's this?)
Age Range:
9 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Thief of Always

Chapter One

Harvey Half-Devoured

The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Here he was, buried in the belly of that smothering month, wondering if he would ever find his way out through the cold coils that lay between here and Easter.

He didn't think much of his chances. More than likely he'd become so bored as the hours crawled by that one day he'd simply forget to breathe. Then maybe people would get to wondering why such a fine young lad had perished in his prime. It would become a celebrated mystery, which wouldn't be solved until some great detective decided to re-create a day in Harvey's life.

Then, and only then, would the grim truth be discovered. The detective would first follow Harvey's route to school every morning, trekking through the dismal streets. Then he'd sit at Harvey's desk, and listen to the pitiful drone of the history teacher and the science teacher, and wonder how the heroic boy had managed to keep his eyes open. And finally, as the wasted day dwindled to dusk, he'd trace the homeward trek, and as he set foot on the step from which he had departed that morning, and people asked him—as they would—why such a sweet soul as Harvey had died, he would shake his head and say: "It's very simple."

"Oh?" the curious crowd would say. "Do tell."

And, brushing away a tear, the detective would reply: "Harvey Swick was eaten by the great gray beast February."

It was a monstrous month, that was for sure; a dire and dreary month. The pleasures of Christmas, both sharp and sweet, were already dimming in Harvey's memory, and the promise of summer was soremote as to be mythical. There'd be a spring break, of course, but how far off was that? Five weeks? Six? Mathematics wasn't his strong point, so he didn't irritate himself further by attempting—and failing—to calculate the days. He simply knew that long before the sun came to save him he would have withered away in the belly of the beast.

"You shouldn't waste your time sitting up here," his mom said when she came in and found him watching the raindrops chase each other down the glass of his bedroom window.

"I've got nothing better to do," Harvey said, without looking around.

"Well then, you can make yourself useful," his mom said.

Harvey shuddered. Useful? That was another word for hard labor. He sprang up, marshaling his excuses—he hadn't done this; he hadn't done that—but it was too late.

"You can start by tidying up this room," his mom said.

"But —"

"Don't sit wishing the days away, honey. Life's too short."

"But —"

"That's a good boy."

And with that she left him to it. Muttering to himself, he stared around the room. It wasn't even untidy. There were one or two games scattered around; a couple of drawers open; a few clothes hanging out: It looked just fine.

"I am ten," he said to himself (having no brothers and sisters, he talked to himself a good deal). "I mean, it's not like I'm a kid. I don't have to tidy up just because she says so. It's boring."

He wasn't just muttering now, he was talking out loud.

"I want to...I want to..."He went to the mirror, and quizzed it. "What do I want?" The strawhaired, snub-nosed, brown-eyed boy he saw before him shook his head. "I don't know what I want," he said. "I just know I'll die if I don't have some fun. I will! I'll die!"

As he spoke, the window rattled. A gust of wind blew hard against it—then a second; then a third—and even though Harvey didn't remember the window being so much as an inch ajar, it was suddenly thrown open. Cold rain spattered his face. Half closing his eyes, he crossed to the window and fumbled to slam it, making sure that the latch was in place this time.

The wind had started his lamp moving, and when he turned back the whole room seemed to be swinging around. One moment the fight was blazing in his eyes, the next it was flooding the opposite wall. But in between the blaze and the flood it lit the middle of his room, and standing there—shaking the rain off his hat—was a stranger.

He looked harmless enough. He was no more than six inches taller than Harvey, his frame scrawny, his skin distinctly yellowish in color. He was wearing a fancy suit, a pair of spectacles and a lavish smile.

"Who are you?" Harvey demanded, wondering how he could get past this interloper to the door.

"Don't be nervous," the man replied, teasing off one of his suede gloves, taking Harvey's hand and shaking it. "My name's Rictus. You are Harvey Swick, aren't you?"


"I thought for a moment I'd got the wrong house."

Harvey couldn't take his eyes off Rictus's grin. It was wide enough to shame a shark, with two perfect rows of gleaming teeth.

Rictus took off his spectacles, pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his waterlogged jacket, then started to mop off the raindrops. Either he or the handkerchief gave off an odor that was far from fragrant. The smell, in truth, was flatulent.

"You've got questions, I can see that," Rictus said to Harvey.


"Ask away. I've got nothing to hide."

"Well, how did you get in, for one thing?"

"Through the window, of course."

"It's a long way up from the street."

"Not if you're flying."


"Of course. How else was I going to get around on a foul night like this?

The Thief of Always. Copyright © by Clive Barker. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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