After Midnight by Richard Laymon

(No Series)

When Alice's friend Serena goes away she stays in her house, with its sunken bathtub and big-screen TV. Best of all is the outdoor swimming pool. But one night a stranger walks out of the woods and jumps naked into the pool. Alice hopes he won't be coming to get her, like so many have done before.

At first glance the plot may reek of simplicity, but it becomes apparent - fast - than it's anything but. "Alice", the pseudonym for the author of the spoof autobiography, is enjoying a relaxing week at her rich friends house while the pair and their kiddies are away on vacation. One night, watching a movie on their big screen TV, she observes a mysterious stranger strip, walk around, and use the swimming pool in the backyard. Since the house is surrounded by woods, its apparent he must have come from there. A bit perturbed and creeped out, things go from bad to worse when she makes a huge mistake, then tries to run around covering it up. This only lands her in deeper trouble, all of it propelling further and further off the deep end.

I won't say the character changes much throughout the story; while there is a small sunlight of hope that gleams on her toward the end, overall the book focuses on someone who's as strange as they come. Alice turns out to be not who the readers expect from the get go, but as the plot changes direction and new scenarios are introduced, it soon becomes apparent that her demeanor never remains the same. Perhaps one of the bigger flaws of this book is that Alice herself isn't always very likeable, doing things its hard to emphasize with, and not showing the proper array of emotions at times.

The plot itself is similar to a black comedy; horrific certainly, with its gore, violence, and macabre overshadowing, but it's evident Laymon had a hell of a good time writing this. Not just because of the obligatory sexual acts, but each word is adorned with a demented and twisted sort of humor. The theme is dark as hell but it's all done in such a light way it can be difficult to make heads or tales of it. It's almost like a guilty pleasure, though. You're reminded to laugh and get some sort of grim amusement out of horribly cruel twists of fates and deeds - should the reader be made to feel sadistic, or guilty, or else is it just the expert work of Laymon at play?

On the author's behalf, it couldnt have been easy to come up with a gander such as this one. I give him great kudos for his imagination. The words are done in first person narrative and this is a refreshing change; while third person POV is what generally gets smiled at and published now of days, it lacks that certain, special intimacy first person could have. Here we are literally in Alice's mind from page one, and it's an effective tool. As usual Laymon doesn't pepper down the wounds and dull the book by foreshadowing or nitty gritty details (except where gore or sex is involved), but he does keep it short and sweet. With a book that's 438 pages in volume, the pace is pretty swift and weighed down with minimal bulk.

And yep, if you haven't wagered it already, this book is traditional Laymon in terms of sweaty sheets and teenage like hormones. The sex is there as always, along with the lust, nakedness, boobs, and admiring of bodies. It's what we've come to expect with this author, yet here it's part of the cute humor and a sick fashion of course. The gore is thick as always, particularly with a saber as a choice of weapon, and Laymon clearly delights in exploring the detail of decapitated heads and such. It's no wonder this author became so notorious.

Suspense wise, it's not overly thick. The beginning gets the heart pumping, but after that it doesn't seem to be the point. There are certainly 'scary' scenes along the way, though, particularly with the monstrous Milo, who's one hell of a character - yech. Other characters all are intriguing - with the exception, perhaps, of Judy, who's just plain strange. Another one I never knew what to make of.

The ending didn't turn out quite as I'd hoped - let's just say since I was put into such a morbid voyeuristic mood throughout the novel thanks to Laymon, I was a bit disheartened by the sunny side up turn of events. Yes, I would have liked to see the dark side of the characters taken up to a whole new level. Worrying about giving too much away, I'll drop a hint for those who have read the book - the van may end up having two compadres, but I'd have liked it to be one person different. Strange how I always end up rooting for the wrong folks.

If you're in the mood for some truly dark and un somber moments, a twisted sense of humor and really strange sexual play, Laymon's always your man, particularly here. I wrestled around with deeming it worthy of four stars or three, but ultimately settled on three - guess I could never truly forgive Laymon for the 'spoiling of mystery'...and yes folks, another veiled plot hint I couldn’t help but give away. Have fun figuring it out while experiencing this twisted version of life for yourself.