Richard Laymon Kills. Yes, he does. One of the most popular horror writers of the late 90s and early 2000s thanks to Don D’Auria plucking up his works for Leisure Books horror line. Laymon had been huge in Australia and the UK, but when Leisure took him on, Laymon finally got the love he deserved from his home country.
That’s where I discovered him. I remember finding a copy of THE MIDNIGHT TOUR (#3 in the Beast House series) and falling completely in love with Laymon’s talent and style. After reading THE CELLAR (BEAST HOUSE #1) and BEAST HOUSE (BEAST HOUSE #2), THE MIDNIGHT TOUR is by far the best in the series.
I followed that experience up with FLESH and THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW (arguably his best book and winner of the 2000 Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel).
I was enthralled by his fearlessness. This was a man you could tell was writing his ass off and having the time of his life. I was just a reader at the time and loving every demented, horrifying moment of the ride.
Sadly, Laymon had already passed by the time I discovered his work. Just 54, he went far too soon.
His legacy continued to grow thanks to guys like Don D’Auria at Leisure Books, and Richard Chizmar at Cemetery Dance Publications.
I continued my affair with Laymon with books like NO SANCTUARY, COME OUT TONIGHT, NIGHT IN THE ENDLESS OCTOBER, and THE WOODS ARE DARK.
I loved each and everyone of these books, especially the latter two.
NIGHT IN THE LONESOME OCTOBER spoke to the early twenty-something me. I, like the main character, Ed Logan, had been brokenhearted and thought I was doomed to be lonely for the rest of my life. When Ed runs into a strange girl while he’s out wandering the sidewalks after Midnight, everything was suddenly possible again. Yes,some really bizarre shit happens, but the heart of the story is Ed and this strange new girl. It hit me hard as someone who’d been there.
THE WOODS ARE DARK, man, what a fucking ruthless tour de force! It’s short , vicious, and fucking awesome as fuck. Just the opening scene, where two women are driving down a back road and see a man crawl into the road and toss something at them (a HAND!-WHAT????), it just keeps going and going and getting more insane, no-holds-barred and terrifying.
Laymon has flashed his brilliance again and again.
BUT when you spit out like thirty books…well, they can’t all be Stoker winners. Ask King!
In the last few years, as I cranked up the number of newer writers in the genre, and tried to catch up on other big name titles I’d missed, I grabbed a few of the Laymon books from my shelf that I’d yet to read.
THE ISLAND. Okay, not a very good one. Not for me, not by the standard his previous titles set. BEAST HOUSE…I’d enjoyed the CELLAR (though not as much as THE MIDNIGHT TOUR), but this one is the stinker in the series. Sorry, bad characters, dumb decisions… it just missed the mark for me. It was just okay.
BUT I recently read DARKNESS, TELL US and it was every bit as fun and wild as the Laymon I knew and loved!
So, why am I talking about Richard Laymon? Well, a few of my writer buds lit into him. I love both of these guys, but I have to respectfully disagree with their assessments on one of the best horror writers to grace the genre.
Is Laymon for everyone? HELL NO! It’s sort of like what a punk band, THE EXPLOSION, used to say, “If you don’t know, you weren’t meant to.”
No. Fuck no. Laymon isn’t for everyone, otherwise he would be Stephen King 2. Laymon was far too Splatterpunk and at times, Bizarro to ever have a chance at reaching the top of the mountain, but that’s what made his work shine. When I think of Laymon, I think of early Jack Ketchum (OFF SEASON, OFFSPRING), I think of Brian Keen (THE RISING, URBAN GOTHIC), I think of Bentley Little (THE REVELATION, THE HOUSE), and even newer authors like Adam Cesare (VIDEO NIGHT), Edward Lorn (FAIRLY LIGHTS), and Matt Hayward (THE FAITHFUL).
Laymon’s influence upon my own work (THE HAUNTED HALLS, CHASING GHOSTS) is undeniable. When writing each of those stories, I just said, fuck it! and went balls to the wall and turned the madness up to 11.
Laymon did not write books that were serious. BUT he did write books that were seriously awesome and fearless. Let the critics eat a bag of dicks! Hey, that sounds like a good idea for a scene! (Just kidding, sort of).
Things have certainly changed in the last decade or so since Leisure Books went under, but Laymon’s influence and importance to the new writers and writers of tomorrow cannot be dismissed.
I miss him. I wish we had more from him. I’m sorry for the folks that can’t see the fun and greatness in Laymon’s work.
A lot of us love him.
For the rest, if you don’t get it, you weren’t meant to.
Suggested (Laymon influenced) reading:
SAVAGE SPECIES by Jonathan Janz
BONE SAW by Patrick Lacey
BORDERTOWN by Robert Ford
THE SOUND OF BROKEN RIBS by Edward Lorn
A DARK AUTUMN by Kristopher Rufty