Richard Laymon, Madman Stan and Other Stories (Cemetery Dance, 2004)

I have a rather large collection of short stories that take up more than their share of room on my bookshelves. Some are stories about dragons, others describe a single day from the viewpoint of a select number of authors. But most of them are horror. From Edgar Allan Poe’s tales to Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, these collections draw me. I’ll usually down them in one sitting or on a lonely weekend, re-reading the good ones, shrugging off the bad ones, and then crawling into bed to see if any of the stories really got me. And a few of them have.

Some of the stories that get me when the lights are out can be found in this collection, a sampler of tales old and new by Richard Laymon. I have to be honest; his name didn’t ring any bells at first. But then I read "The Hunt," and I had a feeling that I had read that story before (stories are what linger in my mind, names sometimes fade, sorry to say.) So I headed to my bookshelves and, lo and behold, there it was, tucked inside the short story collection Stalkers. Since I can be a bit obsessive, I grabbed a few more books off the shelf. "The Maiden" was in the anthology Dark Love, and the title story was in my copy of Night Visions 7. Then other Laymon stories asked for my attention. Tempting me from Under the Fang. Whispering to me from Book of the Dead. I had to stop myself, since I knew I’d never get anything done paging through my collection. In fact, I’d probably be sitting there still. So I promised them that I’d come back later, patted them fondly, and got back to work.

Laymon’s stories often have an unexpected, EC Comics-like twist to them that make me want to rush headlong into the next tale. He’s at his best when he’s serving up moralistic, "what goes around comes around" tales like "The Maiden" and "Spooked," but a good storyteller is a good storyteller. My favorite of the bunch is "Invitation to Murder," a tale of an author with writer’s block who comes to understand that sometimes inspiration for a story comes at too high a price. This story has more of a noir feel to it, and the twist isn’t horrific in the traditional sense, but it did stay with me. Another noirish, suspenseful-but-not-scary tale, "Eats," the story of an elderly woman who is afraid for her life, is one of those stories that alone is worth the price of admission.

Other high points of the collection include stories about:

There are a few stories that didn’t really do it for me, but that’s to be expected in a collection of twenty stories. "A Good, Secret Place" felt pale in comparison to the other high-school ethics tales "The Maiden" and "Saving Grace." "The Champion," about a man who has the misfortune of heading out to dinner at the Worst Possible Time, has an ending that you can spot a mile away. And although "The Fur Coat" is an interesting meditation on individual rights versus animal rights, the story of a woman who holds on tight to the memory of her dead husband through his gift of a fur coat just didn’t resonate with me.

I would have liked to have had a bibliography, especially since Don D’Auria’s afterword comments on the excellence of Laymon’s books. Even a brief copyright listing would have been nice. And if I’m making a wish list here, I would also have liked a bit of background on each story, including what inspired the tale and where it was first published (if it’s a reissue). According to the book cover, there are stories old and new in this collection, but without any further information, I was stumped as to which ones were new.

In researching this book, I found out that Richard Laymon passed away on Valentine’s Day, 2001. A tribute anthology will be coming out shortly from Cemetery Dance, and I hope it does the man justice. For now, pick up a copy of Madman Stan and Other Stories, and see if it doesn’t leave you wanting more. As for me, I’m headed back to my bookcase. I’ve made promises to re-read a few stories, and that’s a promise I don’t mind keeping.

[Denise Dutton]

Richard Laymon’s official site, Richard Laymon Kills! has the bibliography I was longing for, and provides information on where some of his more hard-to-find books can be found. It also provides a listing of other authors that may catch your interest if his books aren’t enough to fill your need for a good, spooky story.