By Richard Laymon (Headline; 1985/86)

A medium-strength Richard Laymon novel. It’s quite typical of his eighties-era novels (particularly NIGHT SHOW and FUNLAND) with its alternately horny and murderous cast of teens afoot in the latter days of October, inter-spaced with equally questionable adults and an unseen killer.

That latter element is introduced early on, when a cop is called to investigate the Sherwood house, an abandoned abode situated in a small Midwestern town. Years earlier a family was murdered in the house by a never-apprehended psychopath, and now it seems the psycho has returned, judging by the fact that the cop investigating the Sherwood house is killed, as is the old woman who called him.

Investigating the killings is Sam Wyatt, a local policeman dating Cynthia, a single mother. Cynthia is raising teenage Eric, the product of an adolescent rape by a scumbag who later skipped town. Eric isn’t too happy about Sam dating his mother, and externalizes his feelings via acts of violence and vandalism–at least when he’s not being tormented by the many pubescent bullies who pack the town.

Several more characters are added into the fray, including Melodie, an alluring motel proprietor with whom Sam falls unaccountably in love; Doons, the asshole vice principal of Eric’s school; Karen, a hip teacher; and Beth, a nerdy girl with unexpected reserves of strength. All are eventually drawn together by a Halloween party in the Sherwood house, to which everyone, young and old, is invited. As to precisely who is throwing the party, we don’t find that out until the end.

There are a few too many miscellaneous characters crammed into this short and frankly rather slight novel, although Laymon’s unselfconscious plot-based storytelling is as always quite compelling. There are many surprises in store, and also some wrenching grotesquerie, particularly in the final pages, in which the nastiness rises to a truly hellacious pitch. However, the final page, which unveils a semi-happy ending, ties things up a little too neatly for my tastes.