First published back in January of 1997, US author Richard Laymon’s short story collection ‘Fiends’ contains a number of Laymon’s short stories spanning from 1970 to 1997. This is by no means a complete collection, but instead a selected choice of his shorts.
The book sets off with a very comical five page introduction from fellow horror author and personal friend of Laymon’s - Dean Koontz. This short introduction gives the reader a brief glimpse into the family life of Laymon, from behind the eyes of a close friend. Koontz also sings the praises of Laymon’s unique writing ability throughout the introduction, which is praise indeed coming from such a well-respected author of this very competitive genre. Koontz’s introduction is a joy in itself to read, with moments of absolute comedy that are sure to stretch a grin across your face.
Fiends - 112 pages
The collection kicks off with the first short story ‘Fiends’ that was written for this very collection, and as such, this is its first published appearance. The tale is by far and away the longest story to be included in this compilation. Not entirely a new scenario for Laymon to write about, the story involves the kidnap, rape and murder of teenage girls who find themselves at the hands of a sociopathic killer. The title of the short is taken from the story’s principal theme, whereby the sociopathic male characters are repeatedly referred to as ‘fiends’ from early on. The story lays down a few loosely-connected storylines and subplots, which eventually inter-weave until the final and somewhat satisfying conclusion comes about. ‘Fiends’ sets the collection off on some excellent footing, and if you’re new to Laymon’s work, then it could be a very good first choice for you to dip your toe into.
Kitty Litter - 12 pages
Next up is the short story ‘Kitty Litter’ which was first published back in 1992 for a collection of short stories entitled ‘Cat Crimes II’ (1992). This humorously written piece of black comedy involves the simple premise of a likeable character named Mr Bishop, who is attempting to give away a litter of kittens for free on the proviso that they go to good homes. We join the tale when an over-the-top spoilt brat of a girl named Monica, approaches Bishop wanting one of the kittens. She picks out one and a paranormal story involving that particular feline unfolds, which ultimately ends with a very smugly satisfying conclusion to the whole charade. As is so often the case, Laymon writes what the reader is thinking, without a thought for social morality. After all, it’s just a story!
The Bleeder - 16 pages
‘The Bleeder’ comes next, which takes the reader on a mini adventure as we follow the character of Byron who has discovered a trail of blood droplets splashed on the pavement one night. Intrigued, Bryon decides to follow them to locate the source. The short is written from Byron’s perspective, allowing Laymon to delve into the character’s thoughts as he pursues this mysterious bleeder. Obviously, being a piece of Laymon’s work, the story ends in a deliciously dark and twisted fashion. For sheer imagination alone, this simple storyline is an absolute pleasure to read; delivering fond echoes of the likes of Clive Barker’s early ‘Books Of Blood’ (1984) era. The short was originally published for the winter of 1989 edition of ‘New Blood’.
Desert Pickup - 8 pages
Following on as one would a trail of blood, we have the slip of a tale that is ‘Desert Pickup’. The story takes on the simple idea that people are not always as they may first appear. Indeed, this lack of trust for others is somewhat of a recurring theme within Laymon’s work. The story squeezes in a couple of twists to the short-and-sweet plot, ending with a slightly predictable but humorously satisfying conclusion. This short story was actually Laymon’s first ever professional sale and was first published back in the November 1970 edition of ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’.
The Mask - 24 pages
‘The Mask’ is the next short story in this thus-far fast-paced and engaging collection. The tale was first published back in 1993 within Laymon’s limited edition short story collection ‘A Good, Secret Place’ (1993). This surprising story follows the principal character, Allan Hunter, who develops an obsession with a masked woman he encounters on the way back from the cinema one dark night. Hunter is an obsessive horror fanatic who, in a similar way to the character of Larry Dunbar from Laymon’s earlier novel ‘The Stake’ (1990), is once again obviously based on Laymon himself. The short builds up a good degree of nail-biting tension until a dramatic twist forms the tales rather nifty conclusion.
Eats - 12 pages
The next short is a tale simply titled ‘Eats’. This story was first published for the July 1985 issue of ‘Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine’. The tale was later reprinted in ‘The Second Black Lizard Anthology of Crime’ (1988), which was then followed by the re-working of the tale as a cartoon for ‘The Bank Street Book of Mystery’ (1989). The short is a murder-mystery style affair, with a strong black-comedy theme running through it. The main character is a private detective who is employed by a very wealthy old woman to find out if a member of her family is trying to poison her. The conclusion is highly amusing, bringing with it another glimpse at Laymon’s wonderfully humorous nature.
The Hunt - 20 pages
Taking the next slot in this collection is the short entitled ‘The Hunt’. The tale was originally published in the collection ‘Stalkers’ (1989) which contained numerous tales of terror and suspense. The short story revolves around a young girl (isn’t it always in Laymon’s work) who is kidnapped and taken into the deserted outback’s. She is then let free, after being told by her abductor that she has ten minutes to get away before she is hunted down and killed. This gritty and heart-racing tale delivers a clever twist-ending that will stay in your memory for a long time afterwards. And to be honest, it’s one hell of a short story.
Slit - 18 pages
Following on we have the short story ‘Slit’ which was first published within the anthology ‘Predators’ (1993). This nasty little tale follows the thoughts of the principal character of Charles, whose obsession with cutting girls comes to a climax with one of his co-workers at the library. The ending thumps the reader in the chest with quite a surprising conclusion that leaves you feeling a little bit cold. Moments of this tale depict rather disturbing thoughts from the mind a very depraved individual, making it quite a strong read in places.
Out Of The Woods - 4 pages
By far the shortest story to be included in this collection is this four page addition entitled ‘Out Of The Woods’ which was first published back in 1975 for the December edition of ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’. Laymon sets down the scenario quickly, with a camper waking up in his tent in the middle of the night, hearing an intruder demanding he get out and hand over all his possessions. This starts the wheels in motion for a very amusing and cleverly-achieved twist to the tale, bringing its short-lived life to a very satisfying conclusion that will leave a big grin on your face.
Stiff Intruders - 8 pages
Next up we have the bizarre tale entitled ‘Stiff Intruders’ that first saw itself in print back in 1980 for the March edition of ‘Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine’. The story sets out the bizarre premise of corpses being left on the garden chair of a (now released) ex-serial killer. Laymon’s comical approach to this idea is amusing in itself, especially as the tale draws to a fitting, yet slightly predictable conclusion.
Special - 22 pages
Next is the story ‘Special’ which was originally published within the collection ‘Under The Fang’ (1991). A graphic novel version of the short was later released for the book ‘System Shock’ (1993). The story takes on a very similar modern-day-vampire premise to that of Stephen Norrington’s movie ‘Blade’ (1998). Obviously this short predates the film by a long way, but there are definite similarities between the two, with the careful play around with the social aspects of the vampires lives and their interaction with mankind. The end result is a fast-paced slice of pure adrenaline fuelled vampire action. However, the short comes across as if it had simply been torn from the middle pages of a full length novel; such is the straight-in-at-the-deep-end approach adopted by Laymon for the tale. Even with its mere twenty-two pages, the short packs in a full-bodied storyline that concludes with a well-balanced ending. The short is very different from the rest of the tales in this collection, and as such, feels just that little bit out of place.
Joyce - 20 pages
The short ‘Joyce’ follows, which is a tale that, like with the earlier short ‘The Mask’, was first published within the limited edition publication ‘A Good, Secret Place’ (1993). Here we have the slightly surreal story of a woman who finds out that her new husband has his dead ex-wife stuffed and kept in his house. The husband cares for the stuffed corpse in a similar way to certain ‘lonely’ individuals do with their life-sized human dolls (I’m sure we’ve all seen similarly disturbing documentary on these guys at some time or another). This bizarre little tale revolves around the stresses involved for the new wife as she attempts to deal with this oddity to their new marriage. Of course, as it’s a Laymon story, things soon turn nasty. It’s not a bad little story at all, but perhaps not quite up to the standard of some of the other tales in the book.
A Good, Secret Place - 27 pages
Last up we have the short entitled ‘A Good, Secret Place’ that was once again taken from the same limited edition collection as ‘The Mask’ and ‘Joyce’. This final tale was actually short-listed for a Bram Stoker Award by the Horror Writer’s Association for a ‘superior achievement in a collection’. The short story includes the strongest content of all the tales within this collection. It follows two friends who try to avoid a nerdy new kid who moves to their neighbourhood. When the new kid finally latches on to them, they decide to teach the kid a lesson. Their nasty prank backfires somewhat, with a final ending to the short (and indeed the collection as a whole) that will leave you with mouth agape. Quite a shocking ending with a truly bad-taste finale. But that’s what we love about Laymon - his no-holds-barred approach to horror fiction.
All in all, ‘Fiends’ delivers a powerful and thoroughly enjoyable collection of shorts that are sure to please each and every reader of Laymon’s work. The book also serves as a good introduction to Laymon for people who have so far missed out on this great horror writer. Each tale stands out from the next, with clever ideas, bold statements and pure Laymon shock value.
The collection runs for a total of 310 pages.
© DLS Reviews