Night in the Lonesome October (Richard Laymon)

Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages
Richard Laymon | September 1, 2002 | 346 pages

Richard Laymon is considered one of the most prolific horror writers of his day. Sadly he passed away on February 14, 2001, leaving this world far too early. It’s crazy that it’s almost been 20 years since his passing. He had a writing style that was unique and unforgettable. His horror was of the “splatterpunk” variety — extreme gore, sex scenes aplenty and all manner of depravity that is akin to surfing the Dark Web. It’s an unsettling place to visit, but one in which you’ll always remember — for better or for worse. My favorite book of his is by far Night in the Lonesome October. It is a masterful piece of horror fiction. I can’t think of another book like it. It’s one of those books that has to be read late at night only. Richard Laymon created a dreamy and dangerous world here like no one else could. I’m sad he’s gone, but I am thankful we’ll always have books like this to remember him by!

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I know the front cover is generic as all hell, but don’t let that discourage you from picking up a copy. There are other editions with better covers, but it’s the inside that counts.

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Cemetery Dance’s synopsis of Night in the Lonesome October is the best:

Creepy hardcover version
Creepy hardcover version

Shortly after returning to college for the start of the Fall semester, Ed Logan learns that the girl he loves has found herself a new boyfriend and won’t be coming back to school. Heartbroken and restless, Ed strikes out late one night for a walk through town. He doesn’t much care where he’s going, but soon finds himself fascinated by what he discovers between midnight and dawn — frightened by the town’s lurking terrors, lured by its mysteries… and enthralled by a strange, beautiful girl who roams the lonely streets.

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It is told in first person form, from the eyes of our 20 year old protagonist, Ed Logan. His girlfriend Holly breaks up with him, and he enters a spiraling stage of depression. To alleviate his pain, he wanders the dark streets of his small town, Willmington, in an attempt to “get his mind off things.” It is there on those seedy streets after midnight that he runs into all sorts of — shall we say — “interesting” characters. But chief amongst them is a mysterious and alluringly beautiful girl that immediately captures Ed Logan’s fancy. He begins to follow her night after night and fancies himself as sort of her guardian. Why is she roaming the streets late at night? Where is she going? Ed endeavors to find out, and what he finds, may be more than he can handle. I won’t spoil this wonderful book but I have to share a few highlights…

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By the way, this book is not to be confused with Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October, which I have also heard great things about. Both Laymon and Zelazny used Edgar Allan Poe as inspiration — it was Poe that first coined the unique phrase.

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Chapter one begins with a banger of an opening sentence. I was twenty years old and heartbroken the night it started. Well damn, now I’m curious to know more. We find out Holly Johnson crushed his heart. Damn you, Holly. But hey, if you didn’t dump Ed’s ole ass, then I guess we wouldn’t have this fantastic tale, would we? So thank you, Holly.

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Early on, we are introduced to one of my favorite characters Richard Laymon has ever crafted. The bike hag, as Ed calls her, never fails to send a chill or two down my spine. I can always hear the BRING-BRINGGG! of her bell as she zips by Ed Logan. She appears throughout the novel and is delightfully demented in a very subtle, unsettling manner.

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Afraid the old crone may turn him into a toad or something, Ed Logan is eager to duck and hide from the bike hag. And upon doing so, he spots the new girl of his dreams. I love how Laymon tells it straight — he is not one to use fancy prose. He simply wrote, “But then from the east a girl came walking.” Right away, you know it’s a major beat change and that this mysterious female of the night is going to be one of the key players in this story. Ed is captivated immediately, and many crazy adventures are yet to come…

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As stated earlier, the bike hag is a fun recurring character. Ed is seriously paranoid of her. Is she even human? What mystical and deadly powers might this bike hag possess? Each night that Ed roams the streets, he risks running into the bike hag. I love how the page above shares all the various fears that Ed holds for the bike hag. You can’t help YOURSELF from the growing paranoia…

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Laymon builds up the anticipation — at first Ed is unsuccessful in locating his new dream girl. I love the analogy to Ahab and the White Whale from the classic story Moby Dick. You can’t help but root for Ed Logan. You know he’ll eventually meet her, but Laymon doesn’t give it to you right away. He builds just enough to make that magical moment mean something.

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While Ed is on the hunt for his dream girl, he encounters seemingly every single lunatic that lives in Willmington. In particular, this eerie porch scene gave me the heebie-jeebies!

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I could picture this scene in my head so vividly… as I read it at 2 in the morning. Creepy!

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I love the first person narrative. We really get in Ed Logan’s head. Laymon does a great job selling the fact that the night time is when the demented roam and rule. You can almost feel the seediness and peril of the night dripping off the pages. Well done, Uncle Dick. Well done, indeed.

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More creepy 3 AM shenanigans abound! Laymon lays it on thick and you truly come to believe that this town is Loonyville. You can’t go anywhere after dark without being accosted by some creep or another.

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The book picks up the pace even further once Ed Logan and Casey, the mysterious midnight girl, meet. These two night owls then begin wandering the streets of Willmington past the witching hour, playing risky games such as “Ride or Hide” and meeting all sorts of vagabonds and sycophants along the way. There’s a lot more to this book than just midnight excursions, including a main bad guy (not the bike hag) that plays a major role. I won’t delve any further; you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out!

RECEPTION AND REVERENCE

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A while back, I was browsing Reddit and came across a Richard Laymon appreciation post. The poster shared how his mom cleaned her house and found his old well read collection of Richard Laymon tomes. This led to a bunch of replies praising Richard Laymon. One person said reading Laymon is like remembering every detail about a nightmare you’ve had. Perfectly stated!

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This reply resonated with me so much that now whenever my wife and I go somewhere that seems a bit sketch, I’ll look at her and say, “Hey babe, this place is kinda Richard Laymon, huh?” She would always chuckle a bit and say “Yup…” She’s read one of his novels (Island) and enjoyed that one very much. You read one Richard Laymon novel and you know exactly what kind of writer he is…

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But my absolute favorite reply in that thread came from the esteemed user with the moniker, socially_bereaved. Mr. Bereaved sums it up wonderfully: “That book is the “hey u up?” text at 2 AM of books.” I laughed my ass off when I read that, because Night in the Lonesome October is exactly that. Now if that doesn’t stir your interest, then goodness I don’t know what will.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020
My wife and I carved this for Halloween 2020

I have read over 15 Richard Laymon novels since I first discovered him in mid 2019, and this one remains by far my favorite of his up to this point. His other novels range in quality. Most are good, a few are clunkers, but Night in the Lonesome October is absolutely fantastic. You have to read this book late at night. Richard Laymon crafted such a dreamy, otherworldly universe that you’ll feel as though you’re roaming the seedy streets with Ed Logan himself. Even to this day, I still look back fondly on my reading experience with this one. I read it over the course of 3 nights, and loved the hell out of it. It’s probably my favorite horror book that I’ve read thus far.

Don't let the bike hag touch you...
Don’t let the bike hag touch you…

In tough and uncertain times like this, sometimes you just need to escape from it all for a couple hours. I can’t recommend this book wholeheartedly enough. The ending, which don’t worry I won’t spoil, is the cherry on top of this wicked cake. It ends like how a raunchy young adult coming-of-age movie might, where it ends with a one line banger. I read the last line, pumped my fist and yelled, “FUCK YEAH!” Immediately after which, I could envision the end credits scrolling with some high energy song accompanying it as I sat there with a stupid, satisfied smile on my face. From beginning to end, Richard Laymon hits a grand slam. This book is often cited as one of his finest works. Read it to find out why. If you don’t, perhaps the bike hag herself will give you “the works…”

5Stars

It (Stephen King)

Stephen King | September 15, 1986 | 1,153 pages
Stephen King | January 5, 2016 | 1,153 pages

34 years ago yesterday, Stephen King’s It was first published. September 15, 1986. I had no idea that was the case until moments ago when I googled the original publication date for this review. Imagine my surprise when I saw it was just yesterday 34 years ago! What a random fun coincidence. Earlier this year I set a goal to read all 1,000+ pages of It, and I’m proud to say I did that. It was also the first Stephen King book I have read, and it definitely won’t be the last. This is often considered Stephen King’s most popular book. It has been critically acclaimed, has been translated into a mini series back in 1990, and also received two full length feature film adaptations. It is as synonymous with the words “horror novel” as any other horror book one could name. But did it live up to the hype? Let’s take a look…

This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
This is the gargantuan 2016 edition by Scribner
High praise indeed
High praise indeed

IT MEMORIES

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I can vividly remember getting my dad to buy me the VHS of the 1990 movie at a Suncoast at the local mall. At the time I had no idea it was based off a book. I just knew there was a creepy clown on the cover and I was sold. I remember watching the movie with my best friend Nelson, and not liking it as much as I hoped. I was a kid at the time so I definitely didn’t understand all the complexities and subtleties. The best part for me of course was whenever Pennywise the clown appeared onscreen (played by Tim Curry). The other “boring” parts Nelson and I didn’t care much for, but like I said, we were just little kids at the time who wanted their horror films to be over the top.

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It was only years later that I found out It originated as a book. A really thick ass book. I was probably in junior high by then, and had no interest in reading a book well over 1,000 pages… especially when Goosebumps scratched my itch for the macabre at just around 120 pages per entry.

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Then It was released in theaters on September 8, 2017. A girl I had just started dating wanted to watch It, and so I took her. I wanted to see it as well, but kept my expectations low because of how disappointing I found the 1990 version to be. We ended up really liking the 2017 version and then earlier this year my wife and I watched It Chapter Two. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to tackle the book.

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At its core it’s a story about relationships: friendship and love. Loyalty. Courage. Overcoming fears. Regrets. Redemption. It was never meant to be focused on the clown, Pennywise, even though he does play a significant role. It is truly “The Losers,” as they’re affectionately called in the book, that make It work on so many different levels. It was that shift in mentality that allowed me to enjoy the movies and the book as much as I did. Of course, it helps to view things from an adult lens as opposed to the one we had when we were 9 or 10 years old. It follows these friends and their adventures in the small town of Derry both past and present, as they are haunted and stalked by a vengeful clown spirit that won’t let them go. Or, is it the kids then turned adults who won’t let It go? Hmm. It could be both…

Sorry Pennywise, It aint all about you
Sorry Pennywise, It ain’t all about you

There are large portions of this very large book that don’t implicitly involve Pennywise the clown. So if you go into It expecting a ton of scary clown thrills, you will likely be disappointed. To be sure, there are a fair share of chills, and the spirit of Pennywise permeates the subtext of the story, but as I said it is more about relationships and righting old wrongs. The more you care about the human characters, the more you will get out of this book. And for the most part, I was quite invested in the human characters, even if Stephen King does seem to go on and on and on at times. He is an exceptionally skilled writer, no doubt about that, but It easily could have been trimmed to around 700-800 pages without losing its soul. Hell, it would have been even better had it been!

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The first page sets up the infamous sewer scene, one of the most iconic moments in horror literature. Poor little Georgie just had to be on that rainy street on that rainy day, didn’t he? But in the famous words of Frederick Douglass, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” And what a struggle Georgie had with Pennywise! A struggle that would cost Georgie his arm and ultimately, his incredibly young life. And with that struggle, we get the progression that we need to drive the story forward. Georgie’s older brother, Bill Denbrough, and his “Loser” friends, are then moved to action and sworn to vengeance. Even if it does take them 27 long years…

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As I said, Pennywise doesn’t always show up, but man, when he does, he steals the scene. As you can see, Stephen King has a way with words. It’s nothing overly complex. In fact, it’s pretty straight forward and simple. But he has a way of painting these pictures in your head. At least here he does, anyhow. My favorite line from this page is a very simple but creepy one: “There was a clown in the stormdrain.” Like, what?! It conjures such an unsettling image in the mind that you can’t help but feel a little uneasy, especially if you were George himself. Six year old George, no less! So It definitely opens up with a bang. I won’t spoil the rest!

Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!
Fuck that boat, Georgie! Get the hell on out!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The best cover of It ever released
The best cover of It ever released (October 1, 1987)

The 2016 Scribner edition I read in particular is 1,153 pages long. Not every page is as thrilling as the first couple pages you see here, so some readers have expressed disappointment or even “bait-and-switch” in the most extreme cases. I don’t think it’s bait-and-switch. For example, look at almost any Godzilla movie. Godzilla rarely appears for a very long running time in his movies, yet they are not bait-and-switch. The same with It and Pennywise. You just have to be ready to dive into Derry and its world, its cast of flawed and imperfect human characters. If you want unabashed wanton clown terror mayhem, then go watch Art the Clown in the Terrifier movies. Don’t read Stephen King’s It because you would only be setting yourself up for disappointment.

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For those patient enough however to stick it through, I think you will find It to be a more rewarding read than not. I really enjoyed it, and would easily give it 4+ stars had it been trimmed down a good 250-300 pages or so. Also, toward the end, there is a certain scene with Beverly Marsh that thankfully did not appear in the movie that completely took me out of it and made me go “WHAT?!?!” I had to read that particular part 3-4 times to believe my eyes. WTF Stephen King?! You’ll know it when you read it. I found it gross and completely unnecessary to the story. Some have defended that part by saying Mr. King did his job — it is the job of the author in a horror book to shock and offend, but “that moment” came so out of left field for me that I cannot comprehend or defend it in any way. But It certainly has earned its place in horror literature lore, and I do recommend diehard horror fans to read It at least once before all is said and done.

3HalfStars

Manitou Doll (Guy N. Smith)

Guy N. Smith | May 28, 1981 | 236 pages
Guy N. Smith | May 28, 1981 | 236 pages

After devouring Guy N. Smith’s Cannibals, one thing was clear: I needed more Guy in my life. I won Manitou Doll and Cannibals from the same eBay seller, so naturally, Manitou Doll was the next book to be read. The cover piqued my interest immediately. It’s so exotic, so… EVIL. Just look at that glorious wooden carved doll, bursting to life with a demonic eye peering out of its shell. Top it off with the chilling silhouette of a mysterious woman worshiping in the distance of a gorgeous mountain range, and it instantly transports you back to those magical, halcyon days of browsing the horror section at your local mom and pop rental store, gawking at all the amazing and cool VHS covers that the ’80s had to offer. The little caption “Hell’s fury breaks loose on a holiday weekend” only further adds to the fun, promising much carnage and sinister shenanigans to come. It’s one of the most intriguing book covers I have ever seen, so I couldn’t wait to read it especially given how much I enjoyed Cannibals. Can Guy N. Smith go 2 for 2?

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The back cover suggests a seedy story taking place at a rainy fairground where shady happenings are the order of the day. Manitou Doll centers around the Caitlins and their daughter, Rowena (who is hard of hearing), and the deadly misadventures they find themselves caught up in upon stepping foot on the fairground’s foul and drenched soil.

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Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the horrific idea of killer dolls and such. Sure, Chucky from Child’s Play is arguably the most iconic of its ilk, but the Zuni warrior doll from Trilogy of Terror always haunted me. It seemed like Manitou Doll had all the potential to be an awesome story about a killer doll on the rampage.

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There are some scenes in the book describing the fair’s Punch and Judy show. Those things always creep the hell out of me!

Ugh!
Ugh!

I couldn’t wait to dive in. Let’s see if Guy N. Smith does killer dolls right.

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The horror began on September 16, 1868. The prologue is a bit slow moving at first, but you can feel Guy slowly ratcheting up the tension as the inevitable “breaking point” event creeps ever closer. I felt a sense of impending doom building as I continued to read, waiting for that horrific “oh shit” moment.

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And whoop, there it is. A terrible raping occurs, and from that, a curse was born for future generations to come. And rue that day they did.

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Guy is no Ernest Hemingway, but I do enjoy his prose. He does a good job of dropping you in the middle of a creepy hamlet, or in this case, a rain soaked and rundown fairground. He has a certain way with words that puts you in the middle of the action.

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As with many horror books of the time, plenty of side characters are introduced solely for them to meet a bitter end not long thereafter. Enter Margaret Stott, who is about to suffer a most horrifying demise.

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These passages haunt me even now to this day, and it’s been a year since I’ve read this book. I will always remember this scene in particular. I could picture Margaret’s mind snapping, her will breaking and all her humanity stripped. It is as harrowing as it gets. The poor woman found herself trapped in an area where the air supply was limited, movement was restricted and she was at the mercy of darkness…

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Guy N. Smith has a way of burrowing underneath your skin. You just get that shiver running through your spine as you spiral deeper and deeper into the abyss. Not recommended for those with claustrophobia!

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Insane mirth — yes, indeed. That about sums it up! What a haunting passage. There are quite a few of these disturbing moments. Another one is the weird spook ride where young Rowena Caitlin ends up … well, I don’t want to spoil it.

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I just wish that there was more killer doll action. The cover makes it seem like it might be, but it’s more about the drama that exists between the Caitlin family and the strange doll carver, Jane. It’s filled with cliches and tropes as one might expect, but a little too much is focused on the humans than the doll. Maybe my expectations were too high. I just wanted straight maniac doll horror. Instead, it’s scattered among the human drama which at times felt like a bit of a slog to get through.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Manitou Doll had a ton of potential to be THE killer doll pulp novel of its time. But there isn’t enough doll action here for my liking, and too much human drama that I honestly didn’t care about much. The characters are flat, one dimensional and a bit annoying at times. There are some nice evil doll moments sprinkled throughout, but not enough for me to recommend this. It’s just an OK read; I wouldn’t go out of my way to track this one down. I do love Guy’s description of the decrepit fairground. And that cover is totally badass. What a shame then that the story didn’t deliver. Your mileage may vary, but for me this is definitely a case where admirable ambition was largely nullified by subpar execution. I didn’t have as much fun reading Manitou Doll as I had hoped. Not a terrible read — just disappointingly average!

2HalfStars