First published back in 1989, ‘Descendants Of Eve’ was a collection of four previously published Fastback stories. The hardback book was released by Fearon Education under their ‘OPTIMA Large Print Edition’ 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:

The Lonely One – Richard Laymon – 26 Pages
Doreen had gone to the Santa Monica pier fair alone. These days she did everything alone. She had no choice. Those who had tried to get close to her invariably ended up dead.

She wished it wasn’t this way, but Doreen had accepted her fate. She was forever destined to be lonely.

However, as she mounted the merry-go-round, a handsome, sandy-haired young man started talking to her. Despite Dorren’s best efforts to put him off, he wouldn’t give up. She looked lonely and he didn’t want her to stay that way.

He introduced himself as Ron. And eventually, despite her repeated warnings, his persistence paid off. Dorren let him walk with her, buy cotton candy together, and he promised to try his best at winning her a stuffed cuddly bear.

Although Doreen didn’t plan on hanging around for long. She knew she was bad news. That every minute Ron was with her, his life was in danger. It’s how it’s always been for Doreen. She was a walking curse…

Here we have a classic Laymon style short story. A quick-fire tale involving a couple of key characters whose interaction with each other forms the thrust of the story. First off you have Doreen. A young woman who Laymon immediately paints as vulnerable, lonely, and downright miserable. Someone who has thrown in the towel with life and accepted her lot.

This is of course due to the curse she says she’s been inflicted with. Anyone who spends any time with her ends up dead. Laymon purposefully leaves it there…lingering in the air.

Of course, this Ron fella doesn’t believe any of it. He’s adamant it’s all in her head and down to a series of unfortunate coincidences. That, however, would make for a somewhat dull story, so we all know there’s going to be more to it than that.

Of course, there is…and when Laymon starts to reveal the dramatic twist-ending, he does so in a handful of pages which deliver an almost unrelenting assault of fast-paced action and horror. This action-rich finale is absolute textbook Laymon, bringing the tale to a swift and wonderfully entertaining conclusion.

The story was originally released as the standalone fastback ‘The Lonely One’ (1985).

The Trap – Richard Laymon – 28 Pages
Bill Pierson wasn’t best pleased to be woken in the middle of the night by his phone ringing. The caller was his colleague, Brian, telling him about a potential new informant from the CIA. This unknown woman was offering them a big story in exchange for five thousand dollars. If Bill wanted the scoop, then the meeting would take place that night at 2:30am…in thirty-minutes time.

As was his nature, Bill was sceptical. It could just be another crackpot trying to make some easy money. Nevertheless, Bill Pierson was known for being the country’s number one journalist in exposing the truth about the government’s spying activities. If this woman really was from the CIA, then this could turn out to be one hell of a lead. A lead he wouldn’t want the likes of Herb Redman getting their grubby hands on.

Bill decided it was worth the checking out at least. If this woman was embedded in the CIA, then the information could be big. Possibly bigger than the Clyde Brownell scoop. And that had been huge! Hopefully this one would turn out to be similar, if not bigger and better…

This is a fun one. For this short tale we see Laymon submerging us into the gritty and morally unscrupulous underbelly of journalism in the 1980’s. Combine that with the huge goings on America had with the Soviet KGB, and you have yourself a hotbed of potential for a huge journalistic scoop that could have some very serious repercussions for those involved.

Laymon sets down the premise and the resulting plot pretty swiftly, all the time casually painting a picture of our principal character’s low-moral compass. In fact, as we get further and further into the story, we gradually see more of how despicable this guy is. The real scum of the journalist world.

With the aforementioned plot set in motion, the storyline keeps cranking up the intrigue and tension with each page. Of course, the whole thing is hidden in the shadows. Neither side of this transaction for information, trusting each other.

The twist ending is delivered with a suddenness that just brings the whole thing hurtling to a swift and very satisfying conclusion. Textbook spy fiction and a thoroughly entertaining read.

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

Shootout At Joe’s – Richard Laymon – 26 Pages
The day Elsie Thompson came into Joe’s Bar & Grill looking for Joseph James Lowry was one of those days that just wasn’t going to go all that well.  Since Joe had retired from his work at the diner a good three years back, twenty-one-year-old Wes had been keeping Joe’s going.  And when Elsie came into the diner located at the far end of Windville, it was unsurprising that Joe wasn’t around right then.  In fact, it was just Wes and a local named Lester Keyhoe in there at the time.  But Elsie was happy to wait.  After all, she had waited over thirty years for Joe, and now with a gun in her hand, she planned to finally pay Joe back for walking out on her all those years ago…  

Laymon sets out with an instantly recognisable out-and-back setting for the short little tale.  Written from the perspective of Wes, the storyline quickly sets down the handful of characters before the grey-haired Elsie arrives on the scene to reap her final vengeance on the man she supposedly loved.  

Being originally written as a Fastback, the dialogue is brief and snappy, with the plot established in a matter of minutes, and then it’s in for the kill with the final (somewhat predictable) twist ending.  Okay, so there’s not all that much in the tale, but its colourful, fast, entertaining and gets straight to the point with an easy-to-read burst of tongue-in-cheek action.  It’s Quentin Tarantino on a more light-hearted note.  And it certainly works.

The story was originally released as the standalone fastback ‘Shootout At Joe’s’ (1984).

The Dollhouse – Janet Lorimer – 52 Pages
Steve Hammond had completely forgotten about his Great-Aunt Ellen. After all, it had been many, many years since he’d last laid eyes on her. In fact, he was about the same age as his own teenaged daughter, Karen, when he’d last seen his Great-Aunt Ellen. Steve guessed he’d subconsciously assumed the old lady had passed away a number of years ago. He’d never in a million years had thought she’d still be alive.

Then the letter arrived. It detailed that Ellen had been receiving care the past few years, but now her carer had herself passed away. The responsibility to look after the elderly woman now fell on Steve’s shoulders. After all, Great-Aunt Ellen was family.

However, with Steve being a successful lawyer and having so much important work on, his wife Becky, offered to instead take their daughter up to Cold Springs, so they could look after the elderly woman whilst they arranged more permanent care.

When Becky and Karen arrived, they found Steve’s Great-Aunt Ellen to be beyond frail – she pretty much had one foot in the grave already. However, for some strange reason, their thirteen-year-old daughter had instantly taken to the woman. The pair quickly became inseparable. And as the days passed, Ellen’s health improved considerably, whilst strangely Karen seemed to be getting weaker by the day.

But still the girl was drawn to the frail old lady. Day and night she’d be there with her. Chatting with the ancient old lady and playing with her equally old dollhouse…

This is one of those creepy tales that’s designed to gradually seep under your skin with the unnerving oddness of what’s occurring, coupled with the use of a strange connection between this young teenager and a frail old woman.

However, the trouble with the story is that the supposed ‘big reveal’ is incredibly predictable from early on. In fact, author Janet Lorimer drops far too many painfully obvious hints and clues throughout the short tale to make the concluding pages a mere case of wrapping up the story, rather than the intended big twist ending.

It all feels like a very lowbrow and cliched 1980s horror movie that’s been put together on a shoestring budget. You can almost hear the eerie piano score that would undoubtedly accompany the film and imagine the dusty old woman’s home with the aging dollhouse sitting in the corner.

All in all it’s really the predictability that ruins the story. Being able to guess the inevitable outcome throughout the tale is such a detracting factor for a quietly eerie horror of this nature. In fact, it gets to the point where you’re just wanting the author to stop pussyfooting around the matter and just get to the ending and be done with it.

The story was originally released as the standalone double fastback ‘The Dollhouse’ (1987).

The collection runs for a total of 135 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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