Monday, March 25, 2013

"No Sanctuary" by Richard Laymon

Rick agrees to go camping with his hot girlfriend, Bert (short for Bertha), despite the fact he's still haunted by a camping expedition from his youth. That adventure resulted in the rape and murder of his stepmother. His rampant paranoia threatens to derail their trip, but he appears to be willing to stick around after meeting a hot pair of young campers, Andrea and Bonnie.

Meanwhile, Gillian O'Neill is a rich girl with a strange hobby - she breaks into other peoples' homes while they are vacationing and makes herself at home. Unfortunately, the latest home she's kicking back at seems to belong to a sexual sadist. However, she's too busy trying to score with Jerry Dobbs to worry too much about the home owner's peccadilloes. She should - the home owner likes to kidnap, rape and murder young women and leave them in the woods - round about the same place Rick and Bert are going camping.

No Sanctuary was published in the same year as Richard Laymon's death, so I was holding out hope that this was a completed manuscript from shortly before he died, and not a cobbled-together patchwork released post-humously to capitalise on his popularity. As far as I can tell, No Sanctuary falls somewhere in the middle. While it is definitely more cohesive than The Lake, it still remains not much more than two separate stories loosely linked together in the last couple of chapters.

Rick and Bert's story largely revolves around Rick's belief that three male campers they encounter are actually dangerous rapists. They then run into a maniacal forest-bound preacher. Gillian's story has her hooking up with Jerry and then eventually tangling with the psychotic owner of the house she's broken into.

Unfortunately, it takes nearly 200 f***ing pages for anything interesting to happen.

No Sanctuary gets off to a great start with a chapter involving a young woman hiding under her bed whilst a dangerous intruder makes his way through her home. It then dies in the ass as Rick and Bert go camping, and Gillian and Jerry develop a relationship, with the author's usual fascination with nipples and breasts. I don't mind a generous dollop of sleaze in my thrillers or horror novels, so long as there's something else intriguing or sinister going on to underscore or maintain it. Here, we get nothing. Laymon seems to want to surprise us with who is actually the major threat towards Rick and Bert. But there's not enough going on for me to really want to know what danger they might be facing. When forest madman Angus eventually pops up, it was too little, too late. Even worse, it was a distraction from the serial killer I thought was the real villian of the piece.

There are some decent horror/thriller set-pieces in the last fifty pages or so. But that's really not good enough, especially considering the highly charged, page-turning epics Laymon has turned out in the past. No Sanctuary is a bomb, plain and simple. But I've always loved Laymon's novels and always will, and it's likely no amount of bombs is going to change that. I've still got books from his back catalogue on my shelf, so I'm more than optimistic they'll be better than this sloppy clunker.

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