Written by: Wesley Thomas
In the crazy world of horror fiction, few writers manage to produce not only impressive material but to leave an everlasting impression in our minds, thus becoming true icons of horror. One writer that never fails to deliver is Richard Laymon. His novels are superb, in his descriptive style of writing, his uncanny characterizations, his ruthless and occasionally cruel endings, to name but a few conventions he uses. Each book takes you on a wild and dangerous journey battling an endless list of crises from possession, homicidal maniacs, witchcraft, vampires, natural disasters, conspiracies, and so on.
Reading a Laymon novel is a rite of passage into the genre. But you are guaranteed to find his books very Moorish, and once you have survived one, you will work up an insatiable appetite to experience another.
The first time Laymon secured a place in my list of phenomenal horror fiction writers, was when I stumbled across a book with an intriguing cover called ‘The Cellar’.
‘The Cellar’ is the first in a series, and is centered around a town’s tourist attraction known as ‘The Beast House’. A place where hope is non-existent, and bloodshed and slaughter are all too real in the buildings mind blowing and sickening history. A place which bared witness to insufferable murder massacre. The novel explores the hidden truths and back story of the house. But as you will soon discover, Laymon very rarely has only one problem in his books, staying true to form he brings in some fascinating characters, one of which being a sociopathic killer ex-husband who slices his way through the plot adding more thrills to the already frightening, twisted tale. The story is relentless and unforgiving in suspense of realistic circumstances, but also the inhuman evils that lay in wait.
To the untrained eye when reading the blurb of this novel you may make the fatal mistake in assuming it will be a mundane route of murder and mayhem, conveniently set on an island with no possible escape but swimming a vast sea for miles. But Laymon adds clever devices to this tale.
Such as first person narration grasping a consistently nauseating and horrifyingly graphic adventure for the reader. A group of unfortunate individuals escape to a remote island unaware that a psychotic carnage artist is thirsty for fresh blood. Murders from this book will linger in your thoughts and subconscious for an uncomfortably long time, long after you have finished it and assumed you were safe. This is a story that will reach down your gullet and flip your stomach like an omelette.
The Traveling Vampire Show
Winner of the Bram Stoker award in 2001, and quite rightly so. Vampire novels can be a hit or miss concept, a dangerous territory that few writers dare to approach. A battle has been waged in the minds of horror fiction writers regarding this tricky subject, should all the beliefs be portrayed (stakes, garlic, crosses, holy water), or should a modernized version be conveyed?
A captivating new traveling show visits the rural town of Grandville, claiming to have in existence the only known vampire left on earth, who for one night is there for your entertainment. This catches the eyes of hormone driven and accident prone teenagers Rusty, Dwight and Slim, all eager to go until they notice the age (eighteen) requirement. But this doesn’t dishearten the determined teens and they now realize they must concoct a plan of how to overcome this obstacle.
These three protagonists are comical, mischievous and highly amusing and tap into a hidden child in us all; where there are no limits and consequence is just an eleven letter word. We all remember the feeling of desperation, an uncontrollable urge to go to a gig or concert. Heck, we would have sold our souls to the devil for the worst seats in the arena! This propels the story into utter chaos, with not only the vampire to be weary of, but a frightful adversary from one of the teens’ past. You will be enthralled by not only the constant catastrophes, but by the timeframe of the book with all action taking place over a twenty four hour period. This is a book which I feel is equivalent to ‘found footage’ films, with the time frame and how real everything appears. The climax is superbly crafted, both satisfying the reader and leaving them feeling on edge.
Darkness, Tell us
A supernatural slumber party as six students discover a ouija board and contact an unknown person who promises them untouched riches, all they have to do is travel to the mountains where it waits to be discovered. This novel thrives on greed; the obvious financial greed, romantic greed, and the prospect of always wanting more, which could be hazardous to their health. After some initial hesitation the group trek to the mountains in search of the treasure, but what they discover is a threat that questions if all the fortune in the world is worth what they are facing. What happens if they become trapped in a helpless situation? Nobody knows they are at the mountains, apart from the ghost and their assailants. With the added theme of witchcraft this tale brings into light just how deadly the sin of greed can be, begging the question: when is enough, enough? How much are you willing to sacrifice?
A gripping read that throws you into the deep end with some unseen loops in the plot and enticing cliffhangers that practically force you to read on.
It goes without saying that Laymon is in top form with his narration of three twisted tales of torture. One being an ancient evil that was considered a myth, but when a mummy awakens from its stupor and starts picking off innocent people, it’s all too clear that they were mistaken. An endless list of coincidences that force cop Tag and assistant museum curator Susan to decide if these coincidences are just a stream of accidents, or actually killings, with the perpetrator being something hidden in their deepest and darkest fears. It becomes apparent that Laymon very rarely only has one storyline, it is somewhat of a trademark of his style. He uses a primary plot, with one or two other storylines incorporated.
This novel is a prime example.
There is the obvious question of the mummy, along with three people trapped in cages struggling to tolerate never ending torture, and a young couple on the run from a family nightmare only to encounter far worse troubles that throw them into jeopardy. Let us not forget the repulsive matter of Mable, Tag’s stalker, a woman who is utterly vile, and becomes quite dangerous in her ploy to win him over.
Just as you find yourself falling deeper into one pitfall, enthralled in a trance of sublimely scary mishaps, Richard will pluck you out of that one and pop you into another. This is perfect for readers that need constant drama and terror whilst characters are being built and atmospheres are established simultaneously. Sensory descriptions are another strong point in this one, such exquisitely vivid accounts of particular smells, sights, sounds, tastes and touch. Smells become indicative of individuals and become an excellent way of building suspense from smells that the reader identifies with certain antagonists.
The Woods Are Dark
An orgy of cannibalistic butchery and defilement. A story that violates your mind and turns your stomach. Sex and violence are the catapults of this story, three groups of people find themselves in the woods at the same time, all for different motives. Family, hikers and a local, all of which become entwined in this morbidly alluring trip.
Twists are revealed, characters are excellently composed and gore comes as standard. I felt this was comparable to ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ in the action and instances of sexual assault. It is difficult to give a brief review of this book without ruining the plot, all that can be said is character decisions prove hazardous and Laymon does not hold back when it comes to revolting moments of cannibalism that almost make you feel like wrenching your stomach.
In The Dark
Nothing exciting ever happens in the life of Jane Kerry, who works for the local library and lacks any resemblance of a social life. All this changes drastically when she finds an envelope in the library, with money and a clue that leads to Jane opening a novel to discover yet another envelope. This time it holds more money and another clue as to where even more fortune awaits. Each envelope is signed by MOG (master of games). After each quest the money heightens, but so do the risks. Each assignment becomes more deadly, but at the prospect of exceeding finances she is magnetized onwards in this bizarre game.
The series of tasks prove incredibly engaging for the reader, not only the unnerving atmosphere produced at the understanding of what Jane must do, but each time wondering will this be it? Will she survive this? Will she quit? A grim part of you preys she will decide to complete the task, but the other logical, sane side of your brain is shouting at her to stop being a fool. An adapted, rejuvenated game of cat and mouse, only whereby the cat does not chase the mouse but provokes acts of insanity, pushing the boundaries of life or death gambles.
A chilling account of a woman’s tragic past haunting her present, not only threatening to destroy her, but also endanger her daughter. The antagonists are some of the most extraordinary in his work; this tale is packed with a hatchet wielding chef, an old crone who would give the wicked witch of the west fierce competition in her blood-curdling personality, and a sicko serial killer hell bent on revenge.
I found myself very emotional as well as horrified at several sections of the book, the colourful characters are well represented composing a bond with the reader. You almost feel it’s personal when events come to pass and mishaps prevail. Deceit and betrayal rear their ugly heads over and over at the prospect of a new romance.
Both mother and daughter have felt the sting of romantic losses and are determined to move on, but when trust begins to shrink and suspicions arise Leigh considers the possibility that some unknown enemy from her past has come to eliminate herself and her beloved, innocent daughter. This novel feeds on mystery, curiosity and character adventures that tempt fate! After near misses both naive females continue to go running at night, but as many writers would argue, if the characters were safe and sensible, would that make for an exciting read? Let’s not forget lust fueling many into risk taking as well, just for the possibility of squirming in ecstasy. A sordid past, a quirky collage of characters both good and evil, and twists that even with binoculars you will not see coming!
Here is one for the science geeks and zombie addicts. An alarmingly intelligent boy, Melvin, discovers at a young age that he has the disturbing ability to resurrect the dead, he decides to reveal this skill to his fellow classmates at a science fair. Needless to say this isolated him from the majority of the student body, everyone but loveable Vicki, who is too kind for her own good and was the only person who spoke to him in high school. Years later Vicki comes back to her home town and starts working as a doctor, on her trip back she visits a gas station where Melvin now works. Melvin always had a huge crush on Vicki, and years later seeing her again, grown up and mature, makes him develop an unhealthy obsession and commence stalking her. Upon noticing this Vicki asks for help from best friend Ace who decides the best course of action would be to date him and appear grotesque in an attempt to deter his affections. But would this not just spur the stalker on?
Not only does Laymon successfully break into a new genre but also adds more twists than one would think humanly possible in a few hundred pages. Melvin decides to target people who Vicki is close too, but not just kill them, bring them back as undead slaves to his commands, edging him closer and closer to his ultimate target. This puts you inside the mind of a stalker to experience how their addiction develops and how it becomes not only a hobby but something they see as an essential part of life. The version of zombies in this are distinctively severed from any other book where they are an active subject matter, by combining elements of the common flesh eating creatures but giving them motives and a ferocious attitude to pursue their objectives.
The ending to this magnificent affair is sickly sweet, you will find yourself shaking when character escape becomes foreseeable, but tirelessly problematic. Forging the urge to yell at the characters to ‘run faster’ or ‘quick hide’. This rare convention often an element in horror films, is established so intensely that a movie’s attempt at this device would pale in comparison. This is a classic horror from Richard, a tale of creepy infatuation, endless bumps on the plot’s road, and proving that being nice can sometimes be a fatal character flaw.
In an abandoned Californian hotel Larry and his friends uncover a woman in a coffin, but the more unsettling detail is that the woman has a wooden staked jammed into her heart and following further examination they note the woman’s vampire-like teeth. Larry, being a horror writer is fascinated and aches to go back, but common sense dictates his impulses and he stays away. But when his neighbour Pete convinces him that it could be part of his next novel, a true horror story, distinguishing him from other authors and guaranteeing him global success, he soon finds himself going back to the hotel of horror. Pete plays the devil on Larry’s shoulder which results in the dead woman being hidden in his home in an endeavour to write this new gruesome tale and eventually remove the stake and record the outcome.
This is a slower pace than expected of Laymon’s writing, but don’t mistake that for boring or dull, real characters and epic atmospheres are depicted. There is also a very personal touch in the character of Larry, we get the impression that Laymon has created this character based on himself, at moments describing how he is successful but not quite at the level of Stephen King or Dean Koontz. Seeping into the plot is threatening antagonist who is the one who put the stake in the fiend, in order to stop the vampire from rising. He soon learns the coffin has been taken and will go to great lengths to retrieve it for the good of mankind.
It is interesting how you can empathize with the antagonist in this one, as he only wants to rid the world of evil you can’t help but understand his motives, but just how far will he go? Is he willing to harm a few humans in the process of protecting and ensuring the lives of millions? Detailed, engrossing, riveting, your inner curiosity is perpetually teased, but will it be satisfied? Will the ending fill your snooping nature?
These are but a few of the grippingly grisly novels of Laymon. Words seem to fall short when attempting to capture what makes his books so magnificent, so hopefully I have tempted you into hopping on the next Laymon train and to experience first-hand the utter brilliance of one of his vindictive ventures. Whether you love realistic horror fiction, supernatural, or an appealing combination of the two, there is a book to suit your individual horror needs! He never disappoints, never gives in, and always generates tales that will poke at your subconscious forever.