Richard Laymon is one of my favorite horror writers, and of the novels he wrote, two stand out as my favorites. The first is his Bram Stoker winning novel The Traveling Vampire Show and the second is his novel In The Dark. I recently reread In the Dark, and it was as good as I remembered. And my memory had built it pretty high, because it is the first straight horror novel I had read since I was a teenager. Sure I read the stray Stephen King and Dean Koontz, but I hadn’t ever really been much of a regular horror reader.
Then one autumn evening I stumbled across In the Dark at my local bookstore. It was the Dean Koontz blurb on the spine that caught my attention, but when I flipped to the first page and began to read I was hooked. In fact I spent the better part of the next year or so “catching up” on the horror field. I read Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Edward Lee, Douglas Clegg, Tom Piccirilli, Al Sarrantonio, and so many others I couldn’t possibly list them here—at least not list them and keep you reading.
Jane Kerry is the head librarian at the Donnerville Public Library. She is young, not too far out of college, and she only recently moved to Donnerville, so she hasn’t made many friends around town. Her existence is lonely, a little sad, and not very exciting. That all changes one evening just before closing time when she discovers a plain white envelope on her chair; it is addressed to JANE. Inside she finds a fifty-dollar bill and a note. The note reads:
Come and play with me. For further instructions, look homeward, angel. You’ll be glad you did.
The note is signed MOG (Master of Games), and it is the first of many notes that will lead Jane into increasingly dangerous situations with the promise of larger and larger monetary rewards. It will test not only Jane’s courage and perseverance, but also her ethics and morality.
In the Dark is a suspenseful, enjoyable, and all-around fun novel. Richard Laymon’s plotting is perfect—there are no questions left unanswered and he builds the suspense slowly, ratcheting it up until the climax, where he throws everything he can think of at the protagonist. The characters are likable—particularly Jane and her friend Brace—and he avoids, for the most part, the gratuitous sex and violence he is known for. The narrative does, at times, feel juvenile: towards the beginning Jane is searching an old cemetery for her reward from Mog, and her thoughts are less like an adult woman and more like an adolescent boy, but it works to create tension, and also endear the character to the reader.
In the Dark is one of the few Richard Laymon novels I would recommend to nearly anyone. If you enjoy suspense, horror, or simply well-crafted storytelling, In the Dark will be a good fit. But be warned, if you upset easily, or can’t handle much violence, tension, or a few graphic scenes, you should look elsewhere.