First published back in 1989, ‘After Midnight’ was a collection of four previously published Fastbacks containing stories about events happening in the depths of night. The hardback book was released by Fearon Education under their ‘OPTIMA Large Print Edition’ ‘Fastback Anthologies’ range. The collection was one of ten such collected editions, reprinting four select stories from the popular Fastback range.

The Fastback series were designed to encourage reluctant readers to take up reading, keeping the stories short, sharp and thrilling. In recent years, these collected volumes have become increasingly sought after, in particular those containing Richard Laymon’s often hard-to-find fastback stories.

This particular volume contains the following Fastback stories:

Night Games – Richard Laymon – 26 Pages
Lyle had a game to play. He’d dared Janice to spend the night alone in the old Creekmoss house. If she stayed there until sunrise, he’d pay her five-hundred dollars. However, if she left any time before first light, then she got nothing.

Being a student, Janice knew she could really do with the money. Although the idea of spending the night in that old, abandoned house creeped the hell out of her. Since old man Creekmoss had died there some thirteen-years ago, the property had remained empty. Derelict and abandoned.

There was a reason why no one in their right mind wanted to live in the property. There were rumours of what caused the old man’s demise. Terrible, nightmarish stories. Something unnatural. Something horrific. Something that could still linger on there in that old building.

But surely, they were just rumours. There was nothing really to be afraid of, lurking within the old Creekmoss house. At least, Janice hoped so…

Here we have a classic haunted house style plot with a somewhat cliched premise behind the storyline – a bet to stay the whole night in this abandoned old property, alone. It’s probably been done a million times in books as well as in real life. Pretty standard supernatural horror stuff!

In fact, the story bares a heck of a lot of similarities to the latter chapters of Laymon’s ‘Halloween Hunt’ (1986) Fastback. The two books aren’t actually connected, but jeez is the ending similar in many respects!

Furthermore, there’s also more than a passing resemblance to Laymon’s ‘Beast House’ series within the premise here. Almost a blueprint for the setting of the Beast House. Again, there’s no actual connection between the stories, other than what probably amounts to a sharing of ideas.

Anyway, the story doesn’t throw in many surprises for the reader. It kind of chugs along as you’d expect, a kind of paint-by-numbers horror story. That said, the character of Janice, does throw down a couple of clever little twists. But otherwise, it’s relatively run-of-the-mill haunted house horror shenanigans.

Nevertheless, it’s still an entertaining read. Laymon manages to build up some much-needed tension whilst Janice is huddled away in her sleeping bag, unable to sleep and listening to the thunder and rain outside.

The ending is enough to pull the story to a satisfying 80’s horror conclusion without it feeling detrimentally cheesy. Nothing spectacular, but good fun for a short read.

The story was originally released as the standalone fastback ‘Night Games’ (1985).

The Blind Alley – John Stevenson – 28 Pages
For James Katt, his private detective work had really dried up of late. As such, when a blind man walked into his office with a large black dog leading the way, Katt jumped into action. The man introduced himself as Willard Barclay and got straight down to business, explaining to Katt that he wanted to hire him to undertake a payoff. The job was as simple as it got. Katt was to meet with Barclay’s blackmailer, and exchange a briefcase filled with cash for an envelope containing a number of compromising photos. That was it.

James Katt knew blackmail payoffs very rarely went smoothly. Often the blackmailer got greedy. Or things could quickly turn sour. But he needed the money. So, he took the job. However, as it turned out, Katt’s gut instincts were right. There was something not right about the whole thing. Something not right at all…

Stevenson’s short tale is a somewhat cliched private investigation affair, involving a blackmail payoff that goes wrong. Well, not exactly wrong, more it was an elaborate ploy. Of course, our astute private detective follows his gut instinct and quickly unravels the overly elaborate web of deceit.

It’s all incredibly elaborate and farfetched. The story also doesn’t drop any real clues along the way to promote the big twist-ending with a clever unveiling of how it all ties together. In fact, the story is a somewhat lazy crime and detection piece, going more for wildly elaborate rather than cleverly conceived. Still a relatively enjoyable read nonetheless.

The story was originally released as the standalone fastback ‘The Blind Alley’ (1985).

The Intruder – Richard Laymon – 26 Pages
Goldie O’Neill had been relaxing in the pool when the phone started ringing.  She left it to ring on, disturbing the stillness of the quiet neighbourhood until the caller eventually got the message and hung up.  With the peacefulness restored, Goldie lay back in the warm water and continued to enjoy the rest of the day.

That night, after a thoroughly lazy day spent relaxing in the sun, Alice had watched a couple of films in the peace and quiet of the house before sloping off to bed.  However, her restful sleep would soon be broken when the sound of a glass pane being smashed echoes through the house.

Alone and with no way of getting out of the house, twenty-year-old Alice knows her only choice now is to hide…

Although short and sweet (as all the Fastback are) this story is nevertheless textbook Laymon.  We have a young twenty-year-old girl first relaxing in the sun, then alone in a house whereupon an intruder breaks in.  Indeed, the first page or two of the story bear more than a little resemblance to the opening chapters of Laymon’s novel ‘After Midnight’ (1997) – with Goldie playing the part of Alice.

Although of course the story isn’t going to be a simple breaking and entering with our protagonist cowering away inside.  That’s not Laymon’s style at all.  Instead, we have some damn impressive twists thrown into the story, sending the reader reeling at the implications as soon as they land.

As you’d imagine, there’s absolutely no hanging around with the tale.  It’s a quick-fire read that keeps cranking up the tension with each turn of the page.  For a five-minute read you really can’t go wrong.  As I said - textbook Laymon.

The story was originally released as the standalone fastback ‘The Intruder’ (1984).

Voices In The Night – Tony Napoli – 54 Pages
Stan Meyers had been working at KFOS radio station for the last two years, but now he was feeling burnt-out. For those last two years he’d hosted the incredibly popular late-night call-in show ‘Meyers at Midnight’, where he’d speak with those listeners who, for whatever reason, were awake past midnight. But two years of hosting the show and listening to so many listeners’’ problems had worn him down. It was time for him to move on.

He’d told the Program Director, Bill Hodges, he was leaving. That he’d already accepted a job at KSTY where he’d be playing 40s’ and 50s’ jazz instead. A change of pace. A change in career that he felt it was time to take.

However, when word gets out that the much-loved Stan Meyers will be leaving, the phone lines go mad. A lot of late-night listeners relied on Stan to get them through the night. The news meant there were a hell of a lot of very sad, upset, and in some cases, very angry listeners out there now.

It was after the news of Stan’s leaving was first announced, that he received his first call from Barton Cook. A call that was worryingly to Stan’s home landline. The man on the call was clearly very upset. But then all of a sudden, his temperament shifts and he tells Stan he’ll kill him and then himself if Stan leaves the show. 

It would be the first of several calls he’d receive from this troubled man, and eventually, it was a threat Stan Meyers found he should take very seriously…

Ending the collection off we have Tony Napoli’s Double Fastback which was categorised within the Fastbacks ‘Mystery’ series. The tale is a classic stalker style piece, with a late-night radio presenter being threatened by an obsessive fan.

The story itself isn’t particularly complex or overly involved. Indeed, there’s not a huge amount to it. Nevertheless, Napoli spends a large proportion of the story setting the scene and gradually, scene-by-scene, building up the suspense.

For the most part the story runs just how you might predict it will. Of course, there’s a twist ending thrown in at the end. We always expect there to be a twist, however, to be honest, I didn’t quite see this particular one coming. It’s not that it’s particularly clever or ingeniously conceived, it’s just that it almost falls into the story from out of nowhere.

Despite being more of a slow burner than it probably needed or should have been (especially for a Fastback), the tale is still reasonably gripping. It’s certainly not as fast paced and punchy as a Richard Laymon Fastback. But for a short read, it’s still worth the investment of time.

The story was originally released as the standalone fastback ‘Voices In The Night’ (1987).

The collection runs for a total of 137 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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