Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Richard Laymon
Published by Leisure Books
There’s really no other author working today that can come close to Richard Laymon. I say that because so many of the new authors that are coming out today try to replicate the styles of their literary icons (whether consciously or otherwise), but nothing comes anywhere near Laymon’s trademark style. His description of brutality is so matter-of-fact it borders on clinical, his characters are so real you feel like you’re friends (or a least acquaintances) with them, and his ideas are so strange that you never see them coming.
Into the Fire, which was released in the UK as The Glory Bus, is one of the last remaining manuscripts to see release since his death in early 2001. Leisure has seen fit to give it a hardback printing first, since it is a bit of a collector’s item, and I’m glad they did. The story is well worth the attention Leisure has given it.
The tale starts off with Pamela, handcuffed in the front seat of a car belonging to one Rodney Pinkham, who has just murdered her husband and abducted her from her home. They’re on a trip through the worst part of the California desert, nothing to see for miles except more sand and rocks, and no chance of being able to make a break for it.
Pamela does make a break for it, however, and almost gets away. Just when she thinks Rodney is out cold he awakens and attempts to shoot her at point-blank range, but right before he does he dispatched himself by a sniper.
Certainly not the first place you’d expect a sniper to be, but it’s fortuitous he was. We soon discover the sharpshooter’s name is Sharpe, and he drives a bus across the badlands looking for people to rescue. That’s his goal in life, the only thing he truly cares about, and he does it well.
While all this is going on, we’re also introduced to Norman, a quiet college student on his way home for a long weekend to see his parents. He lingers just a little too long inside a gas station and when he comes out find that his passenger seat has been occupied by a young Elvis look-alike named Duke. Duke insists that Norman give him a ride since they’re going in the same direction, and since Norm is more or less spineless, he goes along with it. On their way to destinations unknown the pick up a rather pig-like hitchhiker named Boots, whose only goal in life its to fuck and kill, the second one only when she has to, the first whenever she can.
Duke thinks she’s very fine, Norman finds her disgusting…that is until she offers to do both of them in the first motel room they can find, and Norman’s realization that he’s not only live a sheltered life, but there’s no better way to loose ones virginity than in a threesome.
At first it seems like your garden variety depravity but eventually Norm learns that both Duke and Boots have no qualms about killing whoever’s in their way, and he only figures it out when he’s far too deep in with them to get out. Of course their path of destruction eventually leads them to the deserts of California, where just before they all die of dehydration Sharpe is there to save them.
So far, weird. That’s Laymon for you. But the town the trio and Pamela have holed up in, Pits, CA, population 6, has got some secrets of it’s own, and all four of them are going to learn about them, so more messily than others.
Neither the UK or US title does the story justice, though The Glory Bus seems more like something author would choose, Into the Fire a publisher, but neither one of them gives any hint as to what the tale is actually about. So when Laymon finally lets you know it’s just as much a surprise to you as it is to the characters.
Richard’s talent for telling two stories at the same time, bringing them together only at the absolute last moment in some instances, its unparalleled, and Into the Fire is yet another great illustration of this skill. For the longest time I was wondering if, indeed, these two plotlines would ever come together, or if Laymon just decided he had two stories to tell about people getting into progressively worse situations, but such is not the case. I wouldn’t have cared if it were, however, because the stories being told and the characters living the events were so engrossing, the book was very difficult to stop reading. I love authors that can make their readers want to shirk real life responsibilities just to get to the end of their tale, and Laymon was definitely one of those.
There is violence, and when it happens it happens fast and hard. Duke and Boots are particularly unscrupulous killers, not caring who their victim is or where they come from. If they want something from someone, they just simply kill that person and take it. Norman, being sheltered and having no real parental influences, gets into their frame of mind relatively quickly and by the books end is really shaping himself up to be just like Duke, having the same kinds of nasty thoughts and not caring one shit for the consequences. It makes for a pretty disturbing idea when you stop and think just how quickly Norman becomes corrupted, but Laymon’s skill at laying out the story is such that you don’t really notice how bad he is until the very end.
What it comes down to is simply that Into the Fire is a great read from cover to cover. Real characters, realistic violence, and just enough quirky stuff to keep it all on this side of normal. It’s too bad this is one of the last things we’re going to see that Laymon ever wrote, but I’m so glad we could go out on a relative high note.
4 ½ out of 5
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