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The Cellar, Richard Laymon
Leisure Books, Mass Market Paperback, 2006 (Reprint)
Thrillers should thrill, mysteries should mystify, and horror should horrify. Over the years, I have read some truly fine horror: Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, to name a pair. Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho made me physically nauseous.
So did The Cellar.
Richard Laymon wasn’t well known in the U.S. (he died of a massive heart attack in 2001 at the age of 54). Not only did the market for the horror genre die in the early 1990s, Laymon had trouble finding a U.S. publisher because of his penchant for graphic gore and sex. He was popular in Great Britain and Australia, however, and for the past few years Cemetery Dance and Leisure Books have collaborated on printing his novels in North America. He was a personal friend of Dean Koontz, who wrote an introduction for one of his books, and Stephen King blurbed the cover of The Cellar: “If you’ve missed Laymon, you’ve missed a treat.” Steve must have been desperate for the money after his early “retirement” from writing.
The story. Donna receives an early-morning phone call: her husband is out of prison, thanks to good behavior. Donna flips out because daddy dearest, Roy, has a vendetta; he made a vow to kill her for putting him in San Quentin. She knows she must disappear and, loading her Maverick with clothes and their twelve-year-old daughter Sandy, drives north on the 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Everything is peachy until somewhere north of Mill Valley, Donna drives off the road and toasts the radiator (wouldn’t you just know it?). She, Sandy, and their stuff catch a ride to the nearest town—Malcasa Point—and the first thing Donna, Sandy, and their stuff see is an old Victorian house called Beast House (wouldn’t you just know it?).
Donna checks into a fleabag called the Welcome Inn, but the next morning she runs into some good luck. While having breakfast in the dining room (I had no idea that a fleabag would have a dining room), she falls in love by eye contact with a man sitting at another table. His name is Jud, short for Judgment, and he is a mercenary. He has come to kill the Beast in Beast House for his client Larry, sole survivor of an attack by the non-human monster. Jud and Donna hook up (in more ways than one) to rid the Beast House of the Beast, and the story is off to the gore festival.
Enough story, except for Roy. While there is mayhem in Malcasa, Roy is conducting his own horrors in Los Angeles while searching for Donna. Roy has a problem called pedophilia. The reason he was in prison was for raping Sandy, his daughter, when she was six. But that isn’t the worst of it. Without details, Roy kills the parents of an eight-year-old girl, kidnaps her, and has graphic sex with her in several scenes throughout the book.
Now you know why the book made me nauseous. I read the book to the end, but I skipped over the child sex just like I do in books that detail cruelty to animals. But the ending, the last chapter, caught me off guard. **SPOILER** Sandy, sweet twelve-year-old Sandy, is mating with a beast (there are several of them), to replicate the line. **END OF SPOILER**
Laymon was a hack, he used coincidence to fit his needs, he had a predilection for underage sex, his writing was often puerile (no pun intended), and he had no sense of humor (Josh Whedon he wasn’t). He did deliver horror, however, but I cannot recommend this book to anyone.
Maybe I’ll carve a punkin for Halloween instead, just before I set up the Happy Holidays tree.