Dreadful filler content

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #28:-

DREADFUL TALES
Richard Laymon
Headline pb, 436pp, £5.99

If you go down to the woods today, you’ll find a naked woman tied to a tree and get stalked by a homicidal maniac, or at least you will if you’re a character in a story by Richard Laymon. For the rest of us treading in dog mess is about as nasty as it gets.

Laymon died of a heart attack on Valentine’s Day in 2001. A prolific writer he left behind a legacy of nearly fifty books. This volume brings together twenty-five previously uncollected stories, all very much representative of his in your face brand of horror, with its emphasis on narrative momentum and gory hijinks.

The quintessential pulp writer, offering cheap and cheesy thrills by the bucketful, Laymon was the illegitimate offspring of Roger Corman and EC Comics, raised by a wet nurse with a penchant for video nasties. Between the covers of this collection you’ll find axe and knife wielding psychopaths, rapists, femme fatales, hitchhikers with murder in mind, and just about every other brand of sicko the human race has conjured up in its long and often undistinguished history. There are even a couple of vampires for those who just can’t get enough.

The stories are told at a frantic pace, with minimum frills and maximum thrills, Laymon’s slick prose making it all seem so effortless. There’s deft characterisation, especially of horny teens, a Laymon speciality, and heavy reliance on the twist ending, about half of which come off.

This book won’t be to everyone’s taste. In particular those who come over faint at the whiff of anything that isn’t PC should stay well clear (I’ve read over thirty of his novels, so big fan, but still have reservations about some aspects of his work). Laymon is not a ‘serious’ writer, he is a writer who is content to entertain his readers, and if he puts a nutter with a big knife in the story then that’s all it is, no need to go looking for a castration complex metaphor. If there’s a subtext at all then it concerns our own fascination with such material, but this is something Laymon exploits rather more than he explores its implications. You could argue that there’s more fluff than substance here, but if so then it’s eminently agreeable fluff offering an undemanding and fun way to pass an hour or three in the Horror-Mood.

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