Midnight's Lair by Richard LaymonBy Richard Laymon (Zebra; 1988/94)

MIDNIGHT’S LAIR isn’t my favorite novel by the late Richard Laymon, but it is compact, fast moving and imaginative in the best Laymon tradition. I’m not sure it deserved the unprecedented (at least by Laymon standards) exposure it got, having debuted in the U.S. as a hardcover in 1988 and republished as a Zebra paperback in ‘94 (this at a time when the author was having trouble establishing himself in the U.S.), but Laymon, it seems, was incapable of writing a completely uninteresting novel.

Certainly the set-up is a grabber: a bunch of tourists are trapped in an underground cave by a power outage, with the only way out being a sealed-off wall that, it turns out, is in place for a reason! Back in the upper world gunfire and explosions shatter the peace of the resort hotel above the cave, triggering the power outage that sets the whole thing in motion. There are also some nasty doings among the hotel staff that further complicate matters, the particulars of which it would be unfair to reveal here.

Laymon relates this twisted tale in his usual lively, reader-friendly style, gradually filling out the narrative with strategically placed flashbacks. In this way we learn that not all the characters are as they initially seem, particularly Kyle, a young psychopath whose equally maladjusted father runs the hotel and manages the cave tours. Lots of nastiness ensues before and after the narrative particulars have been laid out, with torture, cannibalism and a premature birth among the gruesome delicacies, all dished out in Laymon’s usual unflinching manner.

Anyone who’s read a Richard Laymon novel will immediately recognize the horny young people who populate MIDNIGHT’S LAIR, which isn’t the most original of Laymon’s efforts. It is, however, quite inventive and unpredictable, with a savage menace (several, actually) lurking in the sealed-off portion of the underground cave that won’t seem out of place to readers of Jack Ketchum’s OFF SEASON or Laymon’s own THE WOODS ARE DARK, but which is notable for the way in which the inception and survival of the menace in question are directly tied to the actions of Kyle’s family. For that matter, the novel’s heroes, including the attractive tour guide Darcy and hunky ex-cop Greg, are also tied in with Kyle and co, seeing as how Kyle is none-too-secretly in love with Darcy and Greg is among the stranded tourists. The manner in which these characters’ various fates are worked out isn’t as invigorating as it could have been, but makes for an imminently readable book nonetheless.