Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by Richard Laymon
Published by Leisure Books
When he’s at his best, no one can write like Richard Laymon; when he’s at his worst, it’s a wonder he ever got published in the first place. The fact that one man’s career can run such a huge gamut is reason enough to give reverential respect for the man’s huge body of work, even if it’s not all great and mighty.
After Midnight is not Laymon at his absolute best, but it’s really damn close. The story kicks you in the balls in the first few pages and just keeps hacking away at you until you’re at the point, for me it was by page 80 or so, that you have no idea what will come next. Forget trying to see this ending coming, I have strong feeling you’ll be way off if you even try it. In short, After Midnight is a blast.
In long, here’s what it’s about; as the book opens, we’re told the story we’re about to read is being conveyed to us from the perspective of the man character, a girl who calls herself Alice. As the novel in your hands is supposed to be her memoirs, of a sort, Alice is not her real name, a fact that gets brought up quite a few times at the oddest moments and never failed to make me chuckle.
Anyway, Alice’s story starts the night her two friends, whose garage she lives above in a small apartment, leave for another wild weekend of family bonding with their kids. Her friends are wealthy and have a nice house, and when they’re gone they encourage Alice to have the run of the place both to show their trust in her and to keep would-be intruders away by making sure it continues looking “lived in”.
As she’s getting ready to head back to here apartment above the garage that first night, a mysterious man shows up, strips naked, and goes for a nighttime swim in the backyard pool. Alice is terrified, though believes the man isn’t aware of her watching him, but right before she’s ready to go out and confront him the phone rings. She grabs it and starts screaming for help, quickly realizing the caller thinks he’s called his ex-girlfriends place, and has no idea who she is. The attacked leaves quick, believing the cops have been called but the caller, Tony, stays on the line to make sure she’s calm. He even offers to come over and keep her company if she’s still freaked out, but seeing as how they don’t know each other from Adam or Eve, respectively, she refuses.
They hang up. Some time passes, and Alice is prowling the house with a saber, usually above a mantelpiece as decoration, to make sure the intruder is gone. She steps out front to check and is confronted by a mysterious man, and without thinking she utilizes the saber to slice the man’s head in half. She realizes too late that it’s not her would-be attacker but rather Tony, come to protect her and showing up at the exact wrong time. Alice’s history is sketchy, but she does make it clear in her narrative that she wants no cops anywhere near her, so she goes about the business of cleaning up the mess she made and trying to find a way to get rid of Tony’s body.
Keep in mind, all that I just explained happens in the first 60 or so pages of After Midnight; the total page count is 430. So when I say that things just keep going from bad to worse for Alice for the rest of the book, try to imagine all the bad things that can happen to someone in that amount of time. Then forget it, because what happens to Alice is probaly both worse and better.
The body count rises, the evidence piles up, and Alice comes closer and closer to just giving up and letting the truth be told. There are worse people than her out on this day, though, and she seems destined to meet them all.
Laymon’s inherit ability to move his stories along at a breakneck pace has never shinned as brightly as it does in After Midnight. I can almost picture the man hunched over a typewriter and pounding out the whole story in the matter of a few hours, which is how quickly I would’ve read it if I had that much time to myself. It’s almost impossible to set it down because one terrible deed keeps leading to another, and there’s hardly ever a time for the reader, or Alice, to catch their breath.
Sure, the characters tend to be two-dimensional and do things that seem out of character for the persona Laymon originally builds up, but I’ve read enough of his work as this point to realize that that kind of comes with the territory. His grasp on his creations isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, but he makes up for it with a breezy style and twisted concepts on how to get them in even more trouble than they are already in. Firmly in place is the gratuitous sex and endless description of breasts that also seem to be Laymon’s staple, and when you really stop to think about it you’ll realize that our Alice spends more time half or completely naked throughout this story than she does clothed. That really only adds to the feeling of unreality that permeates the book as a whole, anyway, so it’s good fun.
All in all a great read, tons of fun, and makes me very glad that Leisure is doing the good work of getting the man’s fiction to the U.S. masses.
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