Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Lake by Richard Laymon (unabridged audio book read by Stephanie Brush)

This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on The Green Man Review. Copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission.

After the death of horror author Richard Laymon in 2001, his international fan base mourned the loss of a writer who seemed to still be improving his craft. (He won his first Bram Stoker Award posthumously for The Traveling Vampire Show, widely considered his best work.) Then three complete, previously unpublished manuscripts were found among his files. One of these was published each year from 2003 to 2005. Between To Wake the Dead (UK title: Amara) and Into the Fire (UK title: The Glory Bus), the second of those was The Lake (same in the UK).

In 1968, Leigh West's boyfriend dies in a horrific accident. Eighteen years later, Leigh's daughter Deana watches as her boyfriend is brutally murdered. Are these two deaths connected? (What do you think?) Leigh and Deana soon discover that someone wants one of them dead, uncovering some family secrets along the way.

The Lake is definitely among the least of Laymon's work. That it was found complete implies that the author himself did not think it was publishable as written, and it certainly reads like a first draft. The characterization is strong, especially the lead female characters (always a Laymon strong point), but the plot is overly convoluted and its presentation choppy, as if Laymon merely wanted to get his ideas down and intended on cleaning them up later. A lengthy flashback with little point besides deeper characterization cements this point.

Once again, Leisure Books have dropped the ball on their copyediting duties. Anachronisms abound in a story assumed to be set circa 1986, including numerous references to later pop culture like The X-Files and Reservoir Dogs, with one character repeatedly requesting a copy of Elmore Leonard's Get Shorty (first published in 1990).

Also, the audio recording from Books in Motion appears to be censored or otherwise modified, with at least three instances of the F-word either euphemized or omitted entirely, and several more diversions from the published text. But even with these flaws, The Lake still retains the author's signature readability. The final third ties previously disparate threads together in a suspenseful conclusion as good as anything Laymon published while he was alive.

Reader Stephanie Brush does well with the material. Leigh and Deana are sometimes indistinguishable in conversation, but what mother and daughter aren't sometimes confused for each other over the phone? Conversely, her portrayal of the villain carries the recording to a higher level and also greatly aided my visualization of the character. So, while it does not stand up against the author's other works, The Lake is truly disappointing only in that concern.


Chris said...

Nice review. Can you recommend any Laymon that is similar to Edward Lee? I just read The Backwoods and enjoyed it.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

To be honest I always found Laymon boring - like the literary version of the slasher movie.

Steve Calvert said...

I've read most of Laymon's work. It is a while since I read The Lake, but I seem to remember that I did not enjoy it as much as some of his other work.

He was a great writer. He makes his charecters so believable that you can't help but care for them.

Personal Favourites: The Travelling Vampire Show, Funland, One night in the Lonesome October. His short story collection Dreadful Tales is good too. He did a few short story anthologies, but that one is my favourite.

Craig Clarke said...


To be honest, Laymon and Lee (along with Jack Ketchum) are inseparable in my mind. Their work has many shared features, merely with different levels of seriousness. If you liked The Backwoods, Laymon will please you as well. I would start with either The Cellar or Island.

Chris said...

Thanks for the recommendations. I will check those out.

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