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Monday, 7 March 2011


The late Richard Laymon was strangely not as successful in his native USA, as he was in the UK - during the horror boom years of the 80's and 90's, he came only behind Stephen King and James Herbert in genre recognition. Indeed so well known amongst UK horror fans is Laymon that you can still find his books in the UK bookshops, along with the likes of Stephen King.

It's been many years since I'd last read a Richard Laymon book but coming across this hardcover in a secondhand shop, I was struck with a nostalgic pang and before I knew it I had bought the book. I seem to recall that Laymon was lumped in with the splatterpunk school of horror writers and that his works were very cinematic and followed a clear blueprint as defined by the slasher movies such as Halloween and Friday 13th. His protagonists were invariably teenagers and they were more often than not facing a lunatic with a big knife. Least that was how I remembered Laymon. To be honest Laymon was never one of my favourite writers, the books I had read of his seemed overly violent and contained far too much sex - not that I've anything against sex, mind. I am ,after all a black belt in Karma Sutra, but the sex scenes did often seem gratuitous.

The late Mr Laymon
And so on a suitably dark night, the wind howling outside and  the rain hitting the windows with an almost avant garde rhythm, I settled down and opened the book.

I really enjoyed this book - maybe it was the time I spent away from reading within the genre that made it so refreshing, or then again maybe it was something to do with the skillful way the author creates the feeling of paranoia. Maybe in the past I read the wrong Laymon books because In The Dark is an absolute belter. It really is a book I found difficult to put down  - for once you get sucked into the mystery you've just got to continue until the final denouncement.

The book starts by ramming the central mystery straight into the reader's face - Librarian Jane Kerry finds an envelope addressed to her left on her chair. Inside the envelops is a fifty dollar bill and a note that reads: Come and play with me. For further instructions, look homeward, angel. You’ll be glad you did.

The note is signed, MOG - Master of Games. Look Homeward Angel, refers to the Thomas Wolfe novel and when Jane locates that novel she finds another envelope inside that contains a hundred bucks and a note that reads:  My dear Jane, Congratulations! You've taken your first, minor step on the road to fun and riches. More is waiting! Do you have the will to proceed? I hope so. At midnight, horse around. You'll be glad you did. Yours MOG.

However before she finds the Thomas Wolfe book she is startled by a young man named Brace Paxton who had been upstairs  and didn't realise the library had closed. Apparantly he often loses track of the outside world when he gets stuck into a book. He explains that he once missed a flight because he was reading a F Paul Wilson novel.

Is he the master of games? Jane is not sure but she decides to trust him in any case and because he is with her when she finds the Wolfe book, she confides in him and together they decide crack the mystery.

Right from the start Brace seems the likely suspect - he teaches literature so he would know the Wolfe reference and he does solve the second clue and leads Jane to the third envelope which contains two hundred dollars, and yet another cryptic clue from the mysterious master of games but...heck, no that would be telling.

In The Dark is a great and quick read - the narrative style seems light weight but at the same time, the author doesn't skimp on that all important detail. There are one or two genuinely horrific passages and the book may not be suitable for readers who prefer psychological horror to all out in your face chills. However the driving emotion behind this book is mystery and once the reader get past that first page, there'll be no letting go until the final denouncement and an ending that is both shocking and satisfying.

I'll definitely be looking for more of the Laymon I missed the first time around


Ed Gorman said...

Great writer and great friend. One of the nicest guys who ever trod the planet.

David Barber said...

I've read most of Richard Laymon's books and I love them. For me, reading one of his books is like watching a movie. It was a sad day when he passed away. Great post, Gary!