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!

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The Cellar by Richard Laymon

The Cellar by Richard Laymon
The Cellar by Richard Laymon

Some people dismiss the late Richard Laymon as a hack horror writer.

Those people should go fuck themselves.

An originator of the early splatterpunk movement, Richard Laymon was an unsung artist who made the job of “novelist” look easy with his literary virtuosity and prolific output.

But, like Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Laymon got no respect. He never found a big American audience for his work during his lifetime. He pumped out thrillers alongside Dean Koontz, Peter Straub, John Saul, and Stephen King, but never achieved the fame and fortune of his contemporaries. Critics dismissed his work as too sexiest and/or too violent. Laymon was an “underground favorite” who had a hard time finding American publishers for his novels.

Fortunately, Laymon found an audience overseas. His sales in England and Australia during the ’80 and ‘90s kept his literary career alive. He was able to eek out a living, feed his family, and keep a roof over their heads.

This alone qualifies him as a literary hero.

Things improved for Laymon in the late ‘90s. Leisure Books published his back catalog to great success. Laymon’s American fan-base grew.

But — because life is as random and violent as … well, a Richard Laymon novel — Richard Laymon died of a massive heart attack in February 2001.

The Cellar by Richard Laymon, paperback 1st edition.
The Cellar by Richard Laymon, paperback 1st edition.

The Cellar (1980) is Richard Laymon’s first published novel, and one of his best (rivaled only by 1988’s Resurrection Dreams). It’s the first volume in The Beast House Series, and showcases Laymon’s lean writing style, penchant for fast-paced plots, and masterful use of dialogue.

The Cellar is a blend of creature-feature and crime thriller, like From Dusk ‘Til Dawn. A mother and daughter flee an abusive boyfriend just released from prison. But their car breaks down in remote Malcasa Point, home of a strange tourist attraction called The Beast House. According to local legend, several gruesome murders occurred in the The Beast House, committed by “demonic beasts” that allegedly still haunt the place.

Mom and Daughter cross paths with a Monster Bounty Hunter, a Creepy Old Man, and The Creepy Beast House Homeowners before Psycho Ex-Boyfriend makes the scene, and fireworks fly.

But things really go ass over teakettle when The Beasts show up, hellacious gargoyle-like creatures sporting enormous, gnarled erections. Creepy, indeed.

The true gem of The Cellar is its epilogue. Laymon’s crafts a twist(ed) ending using only dialogue that is one of the best endings in any novel ever. Period.

Richard Laymon press shot
RIP Richard Laymon, 1947-2001.

Long live. Richard Laymon! I am humbled by his greatness!

Miss you, Dick.

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