Midnight’s Lair by Richard Laymon

midnightslairA group of tourists visiting Mordock’s Cave is plunged into darkness when the lights go out. Their guide, Darcy, leads them to the elevators that go up to the hotel on the surface, but they are similarly out of order. Soon, the elevators come crashing down in flames. There’s rumoredly another way out beyond the sealed-off end of the cavern, so they go and break down the wall built in the 1920s to get there. As they break through, something grabs one of them; and soon the tourists are fighting for their lives.

Richard Laymon peels off the layers of the story slowly and deliberately; everything’s connected, but it’s up to the reader to connect the dots. It’s a truly well executed structure, the horror rising not so much from what’s on the page, but from what’s implied. The creatures trapped in their small, sealed-off world beyond the wall may be the enemy, but they’re also victims of an unspeakably horrific crime that’s continued for over half a century, from father to son.

The action in the present doesn’t really match the epic horror of the backstory, but it does its job; the impenetrable darkness of the cavern lends a nice touch to the already claustrophobic setting. The characters are likeable, and even a budding teenage serial killer, whose actions begin the events that unravel the legacy of horror, occasionally comes off as strangely sympathetic. As it’s a Laymon novel there’s sex, of course; but it never overwhelms the story, instead it plays into it. A fast read at a concise 250 pages, with brisk pacing that never lets down, Midnight’s Lair is one of Laymon’s best.

****½ (4.5/5)

Originally published in 1988 under the pseudonym Richard Kelly. Visit the official Richard Laymon site

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One Rainy Night by Richard Laymon

1419565Nipples. So many nipples. And lots of carnage. Richard Laymon is up to his usual tricks in One Rainy Night, a 1991 novel about a mysterious rain that turns ordinary folks into homicidal maniacs.

The story begins a day after a black youth is killed by a bunch of hooligans. Sadly for the mostly white town, the young man’s grandpa happens to know voodoo. He literally rains down his vengeance, causing a black rain to fall on both the guilty and the innocent. Everyone caught by the downpour goes on a happy rampage, like it was the most natural thing in the world to drink your neighbor’s blood.

It’s fast-paced, action-laden stuff for 400 pages. Familiar Laymonian archetypes abound, with Trev the cop and John the everyman, along with Maureen the woman who gets abused. Sex, as usual, looms large even in the most violent scenes; there’s no such horror that would turn off Laymon’s characters from appreciating some well-formed boobies. The end may be nigh, but man, those boobies look nice!

Despite all the titillations, the action gets slightly repetitive. There’s only so much the rain can do, and even those things are very limited (only first-hand exposure has any effect). On the surface it’s a splatter story, and that’s all it is.

The racially motivated murder that starts it, however, does give the story some unexpected originality. Deep down the carnage is a race riot, fought between white people who have been showered by the black rain (thus coloring them black, a feature often mentioned) and those who are yet dry. Basically, in the absence of an outraged black minority, the wronged family enacts its revenge through proxies. While someone somewhere will no doubt be offended by such ideas, it does follow the mechanics of many riots, often sparked by just one severely unjust murder. In One Rainy Night the mayhem may be magically induced and its violence is turned up to eleven, but otherwise it is sadly close to real life.

** (2/5)

The Woods are Dark by Richard Laymon

laymonwoodsaredarkWell now. The cannibals sure are horny in the second novel by Richard Laymon. Yes, it’s sleazy as hell, misogynistic, perverted, idiotic etc. Nobody ever blamed Laymon for being politically correct. But it’s also a fast-paced thriller, a reasonably gripping tale of survival, although I assume that’s mostly because we already have some attraction for the genre, not because we have any care for the characters.

The characters enter the story as they make a rest stop in a small town. They are promptly captured by the townsfolk, who have an ancient pact with degenerate cannibalistic creatures that live in the forest next door. Townsfolk provide fresh meat and fertile women for the cannibals, and in return the cannibals don’t eat and rape the town. Only this time one of the Delivery Men (group of men charged with delivering the goods to a sacrificial place in the woods) becomes attracted to a victim and decides to free her. This doesn’t go well with the cannibals or the townsfolk, and the chase is on. Add some other characters also trying to survive, and that’s basically it.

Laymon’s writing is concise, except for florid depictions of sex. The balance seems similar to bad movies from the eighties, with poor acting most of the time but swelling, saccharine music every time something emotional happens. Characters exist mostly for the advancement of the plot, and most of their actions are motivated either by the need to survive or the need to get laid. Not to put a too fine point on it, but philosophically, considering the whole human race, those two motivations might very well be as basic as it gets.

Presumably the novel was severely abridged by the publisher. Maybe this included explanations for some incongruous details, such as the psychopathic 12-year old girl, who nonchalantly slices throats and guns down people, much to the dismay of her mother. There are hints that some of the cannibals lead double lives, being regular townspeople one day and horny cannibals the next, with a lot of crossbreeding both ways. That would explain why many in the town seem less than human, but none of this is adequately developed. Perhaps in the expanded version.

All in all a strangely fascinating novel, trashy yes, but almost so trashy it’s good.

*** (3/5)