Monday, April 2, 2007

"Into the Fire" by Richard Laymon

For those of you unfamiliar with Laymon, he can be a treat, just like old Steve-O claims in his blurb for this book (and many other RL titles, too). However, not every Laymon book turns out to be such a treat; he was definitely a hit-or-miss author. Yes, was - unfortunately, we lost RL to a heart attack on February 14, 2001. That also means that you need to realize that anything you pick up of his at a bookstore is not "new", at least, not in the sense we usually think of it. It could be the first time one of his books has been published, as there were a few works sold by his widow. Anything else is a republication, and often under a different title. The saddest part of all is that we Americans, RL's native people, were some of the last to discover him; he was quite popular overseas. At least he had some success before heading off into the sunset, huh?

Anyway, enough of the history lesson. I've read several of RL's books before, and as I said, he's very much a hit-or-miss kinda guy. Reminds me of another gem of a writer, guy by the name of Jim Thompson, famous for some little works like "The Grifters" and "The Killer Inside Me". Both authors are worth checking out, but be aware that you may pick up a great book or a so-so book - you just never know.

As for "Into the Fire", this one is definitely one of RL's better works, right up there with his "The Traveling Vampire Show". It starts out right in the middle of the action. Our heroine, Pamela, is handcuffed in the passenger seat of a car driven into the desert by Rodney, an old high-school classmate, a guy who always had an unhealthy obsession with Pamela and has finally acted on it, killing her husband of six months and taking her hostage. Pam manages to keep her wits about her and tries to escape. Lady Luck doesn't side with her for long, though, and Rodney tackles her, then shoves a gun in her mouth, fully intending to blow her brains out.

Only that doesn't happen. It's Rodney who has his brains blown out, thanks to a mysterious stranger named Sharpe. (No, I'm not ruining the story for you, dear readers - you get all this info from the back of the book!) Sharpe puts her on his converted bus and drives her to Pits, population 6, a true hole-in-the-wall place in the middle of said desert. Pamela should be thanking her lucky stars, but she's not sure that Sharpe isn't worse than Rodney. After all, the other "passengers" on Sharpe's bus are all mannequins...

There's a parallel story running through the book about Norman, a college kid driving his dad's Jeep (possibly on Spring Break?), who ends up with taking on some hitchhikers against his will. The interesting part about these two stories is how each of the characters handles their unique circumstances. Do they survive? Do they overcome great odds? Or do they find themselves sucked into the chaos surrounding them? And yes, in true Laymon form, these stories are going to converge, bringing all the characters together for one hell of a finale.

"Into the Fire" is truly worthy of King's blurb, and he's right - if you miss this one, you miss a treat.

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