First published back in June of 1995, ‘Quake’ formed US author Richard Laymon’s fortieth novel to be published.
When a devastating earthquake hits Los Angeles at 8:20am, the quake quickly reduces the vast majority of the city to rubble. When the first signs of the earthquake were noticed by the slim and attractive mother, Sheila Banner, she dives into the bath she was just about to take, for what limited protection it offers. After the world around her is pretty much shaken to pieces, Sheila finds herself trapped within the bathtub, pinned under an array of fallen planks and beams. Furthermore, the structure of what had once been her home has now collapsed around her, leaving her lying trapped and naked in her bath, in the open vicinity of where their property once stood.
Meanwhile, Sheila’s husband Clint Banner is in his downtown office when the earthquake hit. Now, on the other side of the city to his wife, Clint finds himself caught in a major traffic jam as he desperately attempts to drive back home. With his car stuck and obviously going nowhere for a long time, Clint leaves it behind and begins his journey on foot back through the city to his home and his family. However, upon setting out he meets with a somewhat mentally distraught Mary Davis, whose car is still in one piece. Along with quirky thirteen-year-old Emerald O’Hara, they will fight their way through an increasingly hostile and dangerous city, where looting, rape and violence is erupting around every corner.
Elsewhere, Sheila and Clint’s young daughter Barbara is also embarking on the dangerous trek home after being left stranded within the city along with her friend Heather and her boyfriend Pete. The trio soon find themselves up against vicious thugs, disturbed lunatics and lustful rapists as they take to the roads on the way back home.
Back at what was once the Banner’s home and their pervert next-door-neighbour Stanley Banks is taking full advantage of the sudden predicament that the earthquake has left him in. Fed up with his demanding wheelchair-bound mother, Stanley takes a piece of fallen masonry and batters his mother to death with it. Next, Stanley goes out to check on his neighbour, Sheila, who he has spent many an hour in the past lustfully fantasising about. Finding her naked and trapped in the bath, Banks can hardly believe his luck. However, Sheila’s not the only neighbour nearby who’s up and still alive. And if Stanley is finally going to get his way with the woman of his fantasies, then he’ll need to get rid of any snoopers and get Sheila to a place offering a lot more privacy. And anyone who gets in the way is going to find their day getting a hell of a lot worse.
As violence and madness grips the city, with barely any law enforcement left to assist across the ravaged cityscape, Clint and Barbara Banner, together with their respective travelling companions, begin upon their separate journeys to make it back home. But as the hours pass, the violence keeps on escalating; murder and rape going unpunished. It’s no longer safe to be seen out on the streets. And lurking in the gloom of the precarious buildings, anyone could be waiting.
Los Angeles is now a dog-eat-dog city where the new rules are kill or be killed...
From the very outset Laymon sets the novel off with a heart-pumping pace that jumps between the four main storylines that make up the fast-paced disaster tale that is ‘Quake’. For everyone who finds themselves in Los Angeles on that fateful morning, the world around them is suddenly thrown into a dangerous new environment of chaos and utter destruction. And Laymon paints the picture of the erupting madness and feeling of utterly dazed bewilderment to the tee.
The lack of any signs of law and order quickly becomes apparent, leaving the story suddenly open to whatever degree of violent mayhem that Laymon chooses to embark upon. And he certainly doesn’t hold back. Indeed, the first signs that this is going to be a darn gritty novel are with the chapters that are spent around Stanley Banks’ ‘opportunity knocks’ thread. The sleazy fantasies and sudden delight at what the possibilities that this full-blown disaster could bring him, start to pave the way for what is to become a particularly hard-hitting and pretty nasty side-story.
As the novel progresses onwards, the violence and mayhem that has taken over the city soon starts to become something much darker. In a similar fashion to many classic post-apocalyptic novels such as Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s ‘Lucifer’s Hammer’ (1977) or ‘The Death Of Grass’ (1956) the survivors of the earthquake gradually begin to descend into a more primitive and dog-eat-dog nature, that just keeps on getting worse. Indeed, it could certainly be said that Laymon’s novel reads very much like a more horror-driven version of Walter John Williams’ ‘The Rift’ (1998) – without the strong emphasis on racial tension.
With a brazen underlying social commentary that strikes the reader with the absolute subtlety of a sledgehammer, Laymon has fun delivering his somewhat exaggerated message surrounding an inherently corrupt nature that lies within almost all of us. A hidden trait that is only kept in check for the fear of the law and reprimand. And once these social constraints are removed, society quickly reverts back to that of barbaric savages - raping and murdering with no thought for your fellow man.
Regular bursts of sadomasochist violence and an almost non-stop undercurrent of rampant libido forms a particularly prevalent driving force behind much of the spiralling storyline. Indeed, it must be said that the tale’s exaggerated take on the escalating violence pushes the novel further and further into some pretty nasty territory. So be warned ye with a tendency to be shocked.
Characterisation is the typical Laymon affair, with the principal characters and the handful of secondary characters all given just the right amount of attention to their individual personalities and back stories. And all around these characters, who we quickly become quite attached to, all morality and social conscience is snowballing downwards, until there is nothing left but sheer brutality everywhere.
Expect cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger after cliff-hanger, with your adrenaline pumping away throughout, and barely a page going by without some manic violence or sadistic ploy coming into action. Oh yes, this is certainly one hell of a rollercoaster ride!
The novel runs for a total of 375 pages.
© DLS Reviews