The Travelling Vampire Show, by Richard Laymon

the-travelling-vampire-show-by-richard-laymonGenre: Horror
Publisher: Dorchester Publishing Company
Published: 2001
Reviewer Rating: twohalfstars
Book Review by Paul Kane

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Another six months go by, and another hardback book appears on the shelves from Richard Laymon. Honestly, you can set your clocks by this writer, can’t you. Arguably America’s most prolific horror author (barring Koontz and King), Laymon has churned out book after book over the years, some hit and some miss. So which category does The Travelling Vampire Show fit in? All will be revealed in just a few short paragraphs.

August 1963: a time of innocence, of lazy summer days under even lazier summer skies. Unless you happen to live in the small town of Grandville, of course. Because this is the summer the Travelling Vampire Show arrives. And things will never be the same again for three young friends.

Sixteen-year-old Dwight is mowing his parents’ lawn when his best buds Rusty (short for Russell) and Slim (the local tomboy) arrive, bearing news of the show. The posters are all over town apparently, urging people to ‘Come and see the one and only known vampire in captivity, Valeria.’ who is ‘Gorgeous! Beguiling!’ and ‘Lethal!’

Unfortunately the spectacle is only meant for adults, eighteens and over, so they decide to go and watch the performers setting up in Janks Field instead (named after an infamous child killer, who buried his victims there). It’s the start of a series of adventures that will involve the trio being attacked by a rapid dog and discovering that intruders have been in their homes, before eventually getting in to see the show itself (thanks to Dwight’s sister-in-law, Lee) – an event they will never forget as long as they live.

Someone once said that Laymon’s books appeal to the teenager in us all, and this is certainly true of his new novel. Presented here, I suspect, is every young male’s fantasy of what life should be like at sixteen: full of beautiful, nubile women, scantily-clad, frequent sexual encounters and voyeuristic moments, not to mention tons of heroic action where you save the girl (and, occasionally, the girl saves you). Now, there’s nothing ostensibly wrong with this per se, it’s just that the approach tends to give the book – told in first person by Dwight – a certain ‘made-up’ quality. And that’s before we even get to the vampires.

I mean for a start how many teenagers do you know would go about knifing people without so much as batting an eyelid, unless they were muggers on an inner city council estate or something? Indeed, during the climax such ‘decimations’ are spoken of as if they were commonplace things (“So all I did was kill the driver and come to the rescue.”). Oh, is that all? Okay, so the people they’re fighting against are the villains – and a nasty lot they are, too – but even so, is it too much to expect a little remorse or regret? And remember this is set in 1963 in a small rural town, not in New York during the 90s.

It’s also a bit too much like the teen horrors of Stephen King (the first part of It, for instance, or his short story ‘The Body’) and suffers from copious amounts of padding. First they’re going to the show, then they’re not, then only two of them are going, then none of them, then all three, and so on and so forth. Laymon drags out the hours leading up to the show, then rushes the denouement – which in my estimation is the best part of the book (a sort of cross between Gladiator, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Goonies and Showgirls, if you can imagine that). It’s a shame because the concept of a travelling vampire show is a really great one.

This all sounds a bit negative, but there are some wonderful scenes in here, including a Halloween encounter with a man dressed as a ghost, the bit where Slim (who is forever changing her name) is nearly abducted by two evil twins driving a Cadillac, and Dwight’s embarrassment over a crush Rusty’s sister has on him. The characters, too, are accessible and well-rounded; everyone is bound to have known a Rusty or a Slim at some point in their childhood. Plus I’ve always said no one can beat Laymon when it comes to dialogue – and he excels with the teenage banter in here. Oh, and I do love a big strong vampire woman, especially when she looks like Valeria (Laymon’s answer to the comic book creation Vampirella).

On the whole disappointing, if only because I know this author can do so much better (The Stake, All Hallow’s Eve, The Beast House.). Sorry, but I’m afraid for me personally it’s a case of fangs but no fangs this time, Richard.

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