Have you read this book?
I felt very sad as I read this book, not because it’s a weepie (as if!), but because it’s one of the last books we’ll ever see from the late Richard Laymon, who died of a heart attack in February 2001. Apparently a few manuscripts were found after his death, but Night in the Lonesome October (which takes its name from Poe’s ‘Ulalume’) was the last book Laymon personally delivered before his untimely death. A very sobering thought, I’m sure you’ll agree.
The story begins when university student Ed Logan discovers that Holly, his girlfriend from last year, is not returning to complete her education. She’s now happily shacked up with a guy she met over the summer, leaving a broken-hearted Ed to cope with her betrayal the best way he can. He does this by going out for a long walk one night, at first wandering aimlessly, then heading in the direction of Dandi Donuts a few miles away.
But Wilmington can be a very strange place at night, especially in October – during the run up to Hallowe’en. A very strange and very dangerous place. Out here even the most innocent of events have a significant and often sinister side. ‘Be careful, okay?’ says Eileen, a fellow student who has the hots for him. But Ed takes little notice, venturing out again and again, hoping against hope that he might spot the mysterious pony-tailed girl he saw that first night.
His almost obsessive nocturnal jaunts soon bring him into contact with the cannibalistic ‘trolls’ who attack people under a nearby bridge, the obligatory Laymon psycho who can’t wait to get his hands on Eileen, a maniacal bike-riding ‘hag’ nicknamed Old Missy, and various other night-time weirdos out on the prowl (‘Maybe there’s a lunatic asylum nearby,’ Ed speculates, ‘and they open its doors at night, let all the inmates run loose in the streets.’). Eventually, the pony-tailed girl, Casey, becomes his guide to this world, and she introduces him to the art of breaking and entering – the thrill of creeping around inside houses while the owners sleep on in another room. It’s how she lives her life, taking what she needs when she needs it, having no home to call her own, relying on the numerous friends she’s met doing this… and there are more than you’d think.
But things turn even uglier when Eileen goes missing, snatched from outside Ed’s digs. Now the hunt is on to find her and save her before something terrible happens, and Ed hasn’t got a clue where to start looking. Night in the Lonesome October is (or should that be ‘will become’?) classic Laymon. An easy to read, simple horror story that nevertheless twists and turns like a cobra in a snake-charmer’s basket. The central character of Ed is realistically drawn and his thought processes are extremely convincing (the story is told in first person and benefits from some semi-autobiographical input from Laymon – an English graduate himself). As he’s following Casey at the start, he’s constantly thinking, don’t get too close, don’t frighten her: ‘I’m not a fiend, I told her in my mind… I would never do anything to hurt you.’ And the voyeuristic aspects are definitely in line with themes from some of Laymon’s other books (there’s even a bit where Ed says he wishes he were invisible so he could spy on people – just like in Beware!).
As for the other characters, these are colorful without being caricatures (although at times the annoyingly camp gay student Kirkus, with his fake English accent – “Rum go, old bean!” – treads a very fine line). Of course, the ladies do tend to suffer the most, which is not all that unusual in the Laymon universe, where rape, naked flesh and torture (this time with darts; now that’s gotta hurt) are commonplace. Although, in a strange and kind of sick way, this does seem to make them stronger, and you should see some of the things they do to extract their revenge.
For many years this author has been terrifying his readers and he still seems determined to do so from beyond the grave. If you’re wise you won’t read his latest at night on your lonesome.