Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines by Richard Laymon

Short Stories: The Mystery and Men's Magazines by Richard Laymon
Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines by Richard Laymon

These stories are a throwback to a simpler time; a time when people drove around in faux wood panel station wagons, wore bell bottoms, and read fiction magazines for entertainment.

That’s right. People used to read. Fiction. For fun! In magazines!

The first Richard Laymon story I ever encountered was “The Champion” published in an early issue of Cemetery Dance magazine. Here was a story filled with grit, unpredictable characters, non-stop action, and a twist ending that would make O. Henry jealous.

I discovered more of Laymon’s signature work in the pages of Cemetery Dance and other small press publications. All of his short fiction was low-down, dirty, and twisted. “Desert Pick-up,” “Oscar’s Audition.” “The Grab.” Each was a gem shinier than the next, all of which are collected in Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines. Why couldn’t I find Laymon’s novels in bookstores? I finally got my hands on a used paperback copy of The Cellar, which turned me into a full-fledged Laymon disciple.

You can see Laymon’s favorite themes in their infancy in this collection. A camping trip interrupted by a knife-wielding maniac is the setting for “Out Of The Woods,” which also displays Laymon’s economic-yet-effective prose.

He grinned as if a glimpse of his big crooked teeth would help me understand better. It did.

Sure, some Richard Laymon short fiction isn’t very original — he riffs on everything from folk tales, to urban legends, to noir detective fiction — but the stories are well crafted, elegant in their simplicity, like Amish furniture.

Some of the stories in Short Stories: The Mystery and Men’s Magazines seem particularly rudimentary. Laymon used to write Easy Reader-style mystery and suspense fiction for both adults and juveniles, and that style comes through in a few of the stories here.

But Laymon had style! Nobody — except perhaps Elmore Leonard or James M. Cain — used dialogue better to advance plot and define characters. Why Richard Laymon was never a big Hollywood screenwriter is a mystery to me.

Miss you, Dick!

-30-

The Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2012, edited by Paula Guran

best dark fantasy and horror 2012
The Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2012, edited by Paula Guran. $6.99 ebook.

Veteran editor Paula Guran has put together a comprehensive “year’s best” collection that includes some true gems.

All eyes will be drawn to Stephen King’s entry, “The Dune,” and Big Steve delivers a satisfying—if quaint—E.C comics-style chiller.

But King’s story is far from the best in this collection. My vote would be for Stephen Graham Jones’ coming of age / zombie baseball tale, “Rocket Man,” a tantalizing  blend of humor, heartache, and gore. Or maybe Joe Lansdale’s Lovecraftian musical interlude, “The Bleeding Shadow” (which—if I may be so bold, and insert a cheap plug —shares themes with the brilliant rock-n-roll horror novel, Hangman’s Jam.)

Other noteworthy stories include Priya Sharma’s sexually charged fairy tale, “The Fox Maiden,” and Tananarive Due’s “The Lake,” which is delivered by an unreliable—and increasingly inhuman—narrator.

Guran has put together a “something for everyone” story buffet, with whimsical fantasy tales butting up against hardcore horror. The effect can be jarring, but such is the nature of “Year’s Best” collections. There’s no linking theme to these stories, other than good writing and strong storytelling.

Pick up The Best Dark Fantasy and Horror 2012, and you’re sure to find a story or two that will personally haunt you.

Monsters: A Halloween Short Story by Stewart O’Nan

Monsters: A Halloween Short Story by Stewart O’Nan
$.99 ebook, Cemetery Dance Publications.

While Garton and Lansdale bring lighthearted EC-style chills to their Halloween tales, Stewart O’Nan takes it to a deeper and darker place in his coming-of-age tale, Monsters. O’Nan gives us some meat to chew on in this short tale—the lost of innocence, the power of guilt, the purpose and function of religion and prayer, and the aftermath of random tragedy. All that and The Creature From The Black Lagoon! Stewart O’Nan has crafted a tale both poignant and creepy in Monsters.

Island Ghosts: A Will Castleton Adventure by David Bain

Island Ghosts: A Will Castleton Adventure by David Bain
free short story for Amazon Kindle

Will Castleton is US Marshall with psychic abilities, and David Bain is the community college English professor who created him. Both seem like interesting characters; Castleton with his sometimes-too-late “visions” of crime victims, and Bain with his ability to carve out a niche for himself in the self-pubbed crime fiction genre. Island Ghosts is a fast, fun Castleton adventure, and certainly a cut above the usual independent author offerings, and an excellent read for a freebie. Island Ghosts doesn’t have the most original characters or concepts, (there’s a ’80s television crime drama vibe running through this story that’s both cheesy and endearing) and the prose gets a bit purple at times, but Bain’s hardboiled style makes it work.

A Little Halloween Talk by Joe Lansdale

A Little Halloween Talk by Joe Lansdale
$.99 single, Cemetery Dance Publications

‘Tis the season for Halloween tales, and Cemetery Dance Publications has got you covered with its 13 Days of Halloween: Halloween singles collection. CD will release a different $.99 short story each day until Halloween.

Joe Lansdale’s A Little Halloween Talk is a short tale told in the first person, present tense. Lansdale’s prose goes down as smooth as hot apple cider following a haunted hayride. He doesn’t do anything complicated or sophisticated here, but what he does, he does well, and he makes it look easy, the sign of a true master mojo storyteller.

I plan to review other Halloween Singles. Stewart O’Nan’s Monsters and Ray Garton’s Invitation Only are up next. If A Little Halloween Talk is any indication of the quality of the other Halloween Singles, this is going to be a fun collection!

One gripe — the covers of all the Halloween Singles look the same; an orange jack-o-lantern on a black background with only the author and title changed. This makes it hard to differentiate one title from another, and fails to give each story a unique look and feel.  Put a little more effort into cover design next Halloween, CD!