OR: The Travelling Vampire Show

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #25:-


Richard Laymon

Headline hb, 314pp, £17.99

The latest vehicle to roll off Laymon’s production line, Show is a lot more roadworthy than much of his recent work, with novels like Bite and the lamentable After Midnight showing signs of veering off into their very own sub-genre of crazed horror farce.

Posters advertising the Vampire Show’s arrival for one midnight performance only spring up all over the town of Granville. Needless to say our three sixteen-year-old heroes, Police Chief’s son and straight shooter Dwight, manipulative Rusty and tomboy Slim, are eager to cop a look at the woman billed as the one and only known vampire in captivity. Unfortunately they aren’t old enough to attend the performance, so decide instead to trek out to isolated Janks Field during the day in the hope of catching a glimpse of the actress who plays the gorgeous Valeria (these kids are cool, they don’t believe in vampires). Naturally things go wrong from the off, resulting in a slew of incidents that culminate in a midnight set to with the Vampire Show road crew.

This reads like one of Bradbury’s Green Town, Illinois stories, such as Something Wicked This Way Comes, but with elements grafted on from Stephen King’s oeuvre (mad dogs, teenage hoodlums, child abuse etc.), and a far less subtle diabolic double act than Cougar and Dark. Surprisingly for Laymon there’s no real violence until the last fifty pages (an observation, not a complaint), but it’s as fast paced as anything he’s written, with a plot that effortlessly racks up the tension and enough twists and turns to keep the canniest reader guessing what’ll happen next. Characterisation, mainly rendered through dialogue, is excellent, the three teenagers convincingly portrayed as sex obsessed halfwits with their hormones raging out of control. Only the token adult, Dwight’s stepsister Lee, lets the side down; she’s supposed to be a teacher and responsible, but much of the time acts like your stereotypical dumb blonde. And near the end, after so much good work, it all nearly falls apart in a finale that reads like a Benny Hill sketch with added ketchup and sharp, pointy things, but fortunately Laymon reins himself in before things go totally gaga. The overall package, while nobody is going to claim it as great literature or cutting edge horror, delivers thrills and chills with enough chutzpah to keep the campers happy.

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