Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

By Richard Laymon
Leisure Books
ISBN: 978-0-8439-6142-3
March 2010; $7.99

Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons

I have long been a fan of Mr. Laymon’s workmanlike style of telling very nasty, bloody horror stories. He doesn’t muss about, he’s got a tale to tell and he cuts to the chase like a scalpel through flesh. That doesn’t mean he skimps on the characterization, on the contrary, the people that populate Laymon’s books are some of the most memorable in fiction. Nor does he gloss over the blood, horror and sex. No Richard Laymon covered all that but he did it so well and effortlessly that his books often seemed like rollercoaster rides taken at breakneck speed. However as much as I am a fan of that style, his latest, and last before his untimely death, “novel” moves way too fast, tries to cover too much ground with too little, and really seems like a book left unfinished by the much missed author.
FRIDAY NIGHT starts off well with a lovesick teen named Mark finally mustering up the courage to ask the girl of his dreams out on a date. To his delighted surprise she says yes, but with one stipulation, she wants him to sneak them into Beast House. That titular house has been the setting for many of Laymon’s bloody romps (THE CELLAR, THE BEAST HOUSE and THE MIDNIGHT TOUR) and the series as a whole has been quite entertaining and one of my favorites. This time around, Beast House has become a tourist trap and the first 3/4th of this story is just about Mark sneaking into the house, trying to find a hiding space so that he can open the place up after it closes, and having sexual fantasies about any woman he sees. Mark’s date doesn’t arrive until just about 40 pages left in the story and the always lovable beast doesn’t pop up until nearly the very end. What that amounts to is a whole lot of foreplay, which is good and fun I will admit, but very little payoff or action at the climax.
Now if you were a clever reader you may have noticed in the first paragraph of this review my use of ironic quotation marks around the word novel. That is because this book is anything but that. First, let’s just look at it by the numbers. It is only 141 pages long, but with 21 chapters there are lots of blank chapter breaks eating away at that already meager page count. In a further attempt to pad out the size and justify this novella as a full fledged novel, the publisher chose to use a huge, almost large print style, font. Now as a bonus I guess, or perhaps just another ploy to have this book appear larger than it really is, BEAST HOUSE comes packaged with another Laymon novella called THE WILDS. That story is good in its own right and I enjoyed it, moreso then the story the book is named after, but damn it for a book with “Beast House” on its cover I wanted more Beast House in its pages.
My biggest gripe about BEAST HOUSE was just how unsatisfying it all was. It reads as if it was meant to be a longer tale but was left unfinished by Laymon’s passing and hurriedly wrapped up by some unseen hand to some sort of conclusion so that it could be published. While the first half of the story is good fun and classic Laymon, the last part feels rushed and incomplete. I almost would rather not to have read this book then to have this truncated tale be my final memories of both Richard Laymon and his very fun Beast House series. So you know what, I’m going to pretend my best that I never read FRIDAY NIGHT IN BEAST HOUSE and instead remember all the other wonderful books and stories Richard left us with. As such, and as sad as it is for me to say, I cannot recommend this book.

--Brian M. Sammons

How the West Went to Hell (2010)
by Eric S. Brown
Pillhill Press
Tradepaper/$10.99 (U.S.)

In my opinion there aren't enough western/horror stories out there. Razored Saddles, the classic western/horror anthology edited by none other than Joe R. Lansdale and Pat LoBrutto, still stands in my mind as the best of that sub-genre. When I found out that Eric S. Brown was tackling the western/horror sub-genre I was excited, to say the least. So it's with some misgivings that I give this review, and that's mostly not because of Brown's story, but the shoddy editing job that was done.
Unfortunately, with the advent of easy-to-afford publishing technology, it seems that just about anyone with a few bucks and some time to waste have decided to become publishers. Editing is not a priority with most of these small press companies. It seems as if no one is actually checking product for grammar and spelling mistakes in these places.
When did it become okay to shove shitty material onto the market, with no regard for professionalism and craft?
Some of that blame probably does fall on Brown's shoulder as well; after all, he should be going over his own material with a fine tooth comb before handing it over, especially in these days of lax editing jobs on otherwise decent books.
And 'How the West Went to Hell' is a decent read. Sure, it has a few narrative flaws (less than solid characters, a few jumpy sequences where the action isn't so clear, etc., etc). But let's be honest, we come to Brown, and his many published and forthcoming projects, for fun, not thematic or moralistic tales. He is not Peter Straub, and I daresay, he probably isn't trying to be. What Eric S. Brown is trying to be is great entertainment. And he does that fairly well with this homage to everything from Argento/Bava's Demons to Eastwood's Man With No Name. I do feel, however, that this was a bigger story than could fit into the less than one hundred pages of this novella, and I feel a little cheated because of that. He appends a short prologue and a tiny epilogue around the story of a band of newcomers to the small desert town of Reaper's Valley, where all Hell is about to break loose in the form of ancient demon who wants to destroy all mankind. Why? No one knows? Will anyone care? Probably not, because Brown keeps the pace moving with gory, violent demon kills against a once possessed and powerful human vessel in black, and his small group of demon destroyers.
No worries: I won't give away anymore than that.
So overlook the editing flaws and give 'How the West Went to Hell' a shot. If you like rousing tales of blood and death, you won't be disappointed.

--Nickolas Cook