Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"The Lake" by Richard Laymon

Deana West is out on a date with her boyfriend when they are attacked and chased by a demented man in a chef's hat. The attack results in the death of Deana's boyfriend. When police sergeant Mace Harrison and his police partner Mattie get involved, they are able to identify the attacker as Nelson, a chef who works at the restaurant owned by Deana's mother Leigh.

The story then shifts eighteen years into the past when Leigh was eighteen years old and shipped off to stay with her aunt and uncle because of her troublesome behaviour. At a lakeside home, she soon meets shy Charlie Payne, who seems reluctant to get involved with Leigh because of his crazy mother. However, it isn't long before they give in to their teenage lust. However, things end tragically....and we learn how Leigh got pregnant with Deana.

It would appear that psychotic Nelson is the least of Deana and Leigh's worries. There is another psycho out there, one who remembers what happened between Leigh and Charlie all those years ago. Somebody who is determined to make them pay.

The identity of this person is pretty easy to figure out, and I'm not sure if it was supposed to be a surprise. I sure hope it wasn't meant to be a surprise. I grabbed "The Lake" because I am a fan of Richard Laymon's work. He has a terrific writing style that plays out like a perfect exploitation/grindhouse 70s or 80s horror movie. You can see events happening as he describes them. He has a knack for creating creepy and scary scenarios that would be perfect for the big screen. However, his novels are usually so whacked-out, violent and nasty it would take a brave movie studio to actually adapt his work.

I was after something a mindless, nasty and fun. I was a bit over all the "safe" and "predictable" crime novels/romantic suspense novels I was reading, and ready for something a more edgy, which is what Laymon usually provides. "The Lake" does have Laymon's typical smattering of over-the-top gore, but it was in a book that simply did not hold together from chapter to chapter. Now, Laymon died in 2001 (a great loss to the horror-writing community), and this book was published in 2004. Perhaps the publishing company put out an unfinished manuscript without bothering to hire an editor to see if the story was actually fit to be published. It's the only explanation I can think of to justify the release of such a disjointed, badly plotted novel.

There are two twisted psychos at play here. On the one hand I can't really complain, as plenty of crime authors pull that trick (hey, James Patterson!). On the other hand, Laymon has typically been above that sort of ploy. Check out "Among The Missing". It could rival any typical crime novel. His previous works have always been so carefully plotted. What was the rationale behind the "creatures" who attacked Nelson under the bridge? They're mentioned in one chapter and never heard from again. What was the point of the "Mommy Dearest" character that Deana keeps encountering, and her strange retirement home? It ultimately has zero relevance to the main plot. Why did the suggestion of one character's psychic powers suddenly become fact right when needed? For about 90% of the book, there is no indication that the plot is operating in some sort of supernatural realm! I would accuse the writer of being lazy, but there's no way to tell if Laymon actually considered this manuscript fit for publication!

I won't get into the ridiculous character moves or the author's obsession with womens' breasts and nipples. They've been a factor in all his novels, even the really good ones. Although some of the significantly stupid character moves here will make your jaw drop. There is also lots and lots of sex, perhaps more than usual. Laymon has never shied away from being smutty, but it began to bore here.

On a positive note, and a surprising one, there is no rape to be found here. Sure, the female characters suffer all sorts of abuse and violence, but not rape. I have always been a bit uncomfortable with Laymon's exploitative approach to rape, but I usually enjoy his novels so much that I usually get past it. It's a real pity that one of the few times he doesn't resort to it is in such a below-par novel.

"The Lake" is terrible, perhaps one of the worst I've read. But I won't hold it against the author, as he isn't alive to defend, justify or explain it. It does have its moments, but they are few and far between. There are still other Laymon novels out there I haven't read yet, and this bomb is hardly likely to make me give up on him. He truly is one of the best horror writers you're likely to find.


  1. Great review. I've developed a love for Laymon's books over the last few years, but the posthumously published ones read like very early drafts. As I recall The Lake even had a scene in which the heroine uses the phone in her house even after the villain has cut the lines. Come Out Tonight was just as awful, chock full of characters doing idiotic things just to move the story forward. To Wake the Dead had problems too, including two storylines that had almost nothing to do with each other and several threads left dangling, though that one was still pretty readable. Fortunately, there are plenty of great Laymon novels like Flesh, Beware, and The Travelling Vampire Show.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Matt! I've just gotten hold of The Travelling Vampire Show (found it in a newsagent for $5 - bargain), so I'm pleased that it comes with a recommendation.