By Richard Laymon (Headline; 1984/94)
A novel by the late Richard Laymon that for me will always hold a special significance because, simply, back in the eighties it was the first Laymon novel I read (ironically enough, it’s since gone on to become one of his most obscure books, being one of the few Laymon titles that missed being reprinted in the 00’s by Leisure). Rereading the book, I found that its initial hold remains largely intact; NIGHT SHOW is nothing if not a page-turner, with a consistently inventive narrative and some mighty potent nastiness. It’s pure Richard Laymon, in short, and an excellent introduction to his fictional universe.
It begins with a jolt, with the naïve young Linda grabbed off the street by a pack of male classmates, who subsequently manhandle her inside a deserted house. The experience, which concludes with Linda getting hit by a car and paralyzed for a time, leaves a lasting impression on her, and also the ringleader of the gambit, a deeply maladjusted freak named Tony Johnson. He becomes obsessed with scaring the hell out of people–and also Dani Larson, who creates special effects for grade-Z horror movies.
Tony is determined to work for Dani, and takes to stalking her in her Hollywood Hills home. Dani’s hunky boyfriend/assistant Jack helps fend Tony off, but only to a point, as Dani’s overly generous nature proves as dangerous as Tony’s persistence. Linda, meanwhile, has grown determined to track down each of the perpetrators of her assault, and punish them in very harsh ways.
Thus we have a tough, fat-free narrative that reads like THE FAN meets I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE, with some surprisingly explicit sex and genuinely shivery set pieces (such as a claustrophobia-inducing enclosure in a coffin). Some of Laymon’s characterizations err on the two-dimensional side (the too-good-to-be-true Jack in particular), but for the most part NIGHT SHOW is a solidly imagined, furiously readable book that should satisfy any horror fan.