I have just finished Richard Laymon's Traveling Vampire Show. What a strange experience.
Let me first say that I've read much of this author and recommend him to those who love horror; most of you who love horror have probably already read his work. If you haven't, then allow me to suggest what I consider to be his best piece "Night In The Lonesome October", which wasn't just an astonishing suspense/horror story, but an astonishing work of fiction. Its prose and timing rivaled Bradbury's darkest work and the characters created by Laymon are entirely believable and worth knowing.
So what's the deal with The Traveling Vampire Show? I have never sat on the edge of my seat for this long with a novel. Page after page I held my breath and felt true dread. That is an amazing feat to pull off for a writer, and what made it even more amazing was that basically nothing was happening. Two thirds of the novel is character development and set up. And yet he manages to scare the poop out of you. It's an astonishing feat, one that I am reviewing right now to see how he does it.
Don't get me wrong, Laymon is not a good writer. A good storyteller, but not a good writer (with the exception of "In The Lonesome October"). He relies too often on the gross out factor and sometimes his plots clank improbably along. This story, told in first person, is about three teens in the early sixties, living in a small rural town. When posters appear around town advertising the arrival of the vampire show (a little bit of a bow to Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes), the characters make plans to attend. All the action that follows occurs through the course of one day.
Unfortunately, when someone spends an entire novel doing set up, it is almost impossible to deliver on what is promised. And this is the case with "Vampire". I'm sure many people will enjoy the final battle royale, but it seems to just degenerate into so much pointless violence and sex. The joy of this novel is everything that happens before the three kids actually get to the show---and that's the lesson for horror writers. The horror comes not from what happens but from the anticipation of what is going to happen and from the relationship the reader forms with the characters. If we don't care about the characters, then what is about to happen to them has no meaning for us.
And by the way...another good read for Halloween would be "Blood Crazy" by Simon Clark (dear god....this one was brilliant. Clark is hit and miss, much like Laymon, but this is a hit...the premise is that for some reason as a species we suddenly turn on anyone under eighteen and try to kill them. Social commentary and apocalyptic horror told from a teen's perspective)