First published back in June of 1988, US horror author Richard Laymon’s novel ‘Midnight’s Lair’ was originally published under his early pseudonym of Richard Kelly.
Ever since Ely Mordock built the wall within the deep underground caves, the vast chambers now known as Mordock’s Cave have been a popular tourist attraction. Now, hourly tours take place within the huge natural caverns, with underground boat trips accessed by deep-running lifts that take the tourists down into the darkened depths of Mardock Cave.
Above ground a hotel is situated adjoining the entrance to the caves. Here guests can relax in the comfort of the hotel’s leisure facilities before embarking upon a tour into the main attraction. And Mordock’s Cave is not without its sightseer-friendly legends. The story of Elizabeth Mardock and her roaming ghost, trapped within the depths of the caves, only helps to bring in the paying customers.
For tour guide Darcy Raines, it’s just another boat trip on the underground lake deep within the Mardock Cave. But to her dismay, the owner’s fifteen-year-old son Kyle Mordock has joined the tour...again. Darcy knows that Kyle only comes on these tours to gawp at her. He’s a randy teenager who’s constantly on heat. But with his family owning the whole complex, it’s far from her place to say anything.
But when a fire breaks out in the hotel, the power fails to the whole complex and Darcy’s thirty-strong tourist group find themselves stuck down in the underground caves, without any lighting or power to the lifts to get them out. With no idea what is taking place above ground, or indeed how long they are likely to be stuck down in the caves, Darcy struggles to keep the group of scarred tourists calm as they wait in total darkness for the power to come back on.
As the hours go by, a plan is formulated to break their way through Ely’s wall, and hopefully outside to eventual rescue. But behind the age-old wall lies a terrible family secret. A secret that has been passed down from generation to generation within the Mardock family. It all comes back to the family trait for rape and murder. One which young Kyle Mordock has recently begun to embark upon thanks to his father and Room 115 in their hotel. A secret that comes down to a place to hide the bodies of those that they have used, abused and then killed. A secret that lurks deep within Mardock Cave, where the cruelties of the past still linger...
Laymon kicks off the tale with a brief introduction to the principal characters before throwing them into immediate peril. From here we are subjected to an enveloping tension that escalates as the minutes become hours whilst Darcy’s group is stuck in the dark caverns of Mardock’s Cave.
With the principal plot now firmly set, Laymon begins to lay down a chilling backstory surrounding the Mardock family and their vile sexual deviancies. Laymon basks in the rampant sexual desires of Kyle Mardock before upping the ante with the young lad’s first real sexual experience that is handed to him by his equally perverted father. Or yes, the Mardock family traits extend to voyeurism, rape, torture and murder.
Once the Mardock family’s inherent cruelty is adequately laid down, Laymon shifts the whole thrust of the storyline into the more macabre. What started off as a character-driven disaster story quickly swerves towards a much more grotesque and horrifying scenario.
As with the vast majority of Laymon's novels, ‘Midnight's Lair’ involves two main storylines that run parallel to each other. In this case, one above ground with the parents and families desperate to rescue their loved ones, and those trapped down within the dark depths of the caves.
Much of the tale draws immediate similarities with Neil Marshall's claustrophobic horror flick ‘The Descent’ (2005). Obviously Laymon's novel predates the film but quite some way, but the similarities are incredibly stark. Furthermore, Laymon’s ‘trapped-underground-with-a-hideous-threat-on-your-heels’ storyline is certainly the more extreme and perverse of the two.
Written with his usual fast-paced, action-packed, no-holds-barred approach to writing; the tale rushes onwards with a veritable wealth of horror, suspense, visceral gore and savage sexual undertones bursting from almost every chapter. There’s so much forceful energy in the tale that it’s nigh on impossible to put the book down at any point.
The plot as a whole builds incredibly well, with regular jumps back to past events that create a tightly-constructed and well-developed story. Laymon uses multiple subplots throughout the length of the tale, mostly revolving around individual characters that are amongst those trapped within the cave. Indeed the usual injection of a love interest between Darcy and one of those who she is trapped within the cave with simply fleshes out the characters that little bit more, adding to the thick tapestry of the tale.
With the storyline drawing to a conclusion, Laymon throws in some all-out blood-drenched splatterpunk that gives Shaun Hutson or even James Herbert a run for their money. The grand finale to ‘Midnight's Lair’ shows the bottomless depths to Laymon's dark and twisted imagination, with a horror threat that goes way beyond anything that the reader is likely to have ever anticipated coming.
The novel runs for a total of 253 pages.
© DLS Reviews