Top critical review
Good story which is longer than it needs to be
on 29 April 2014
Context first: I've read a handful of Richard Laymon's books. I've enjoyed all of them to one degree or another - some more than others - and while I feel satisfied when I finish one, I can't say I feel the sort of sense of loss when I come to the end of fellow genre writers such as Stephen King or James Herbert or Robert McCammon. There are a couple of exceptions, but overall he's a perfectly good read and can be relied upon to deliver a pretty solid story.
What he writes: Laymon's books are, almost without exception, thrillers that live at the edges of psychological horror. Generally speaking they're dark and almost unremittingly believable - which, in the end, is what makes them so disturbing
How does this compare to his other work: In truth, this is at the lower end of his personal scale. Funland was written in 1989 (published in 1990) is, chronologically, at the midpoint of his published career. Slightly lazy and with a bloated narrative, it features an altogether too convenient (and therefore trite) ending. But in the moments where it counts and where Laymon finds himself writing from the darkest parts of his mind, the pace is blistering.
Plot: People in the seaside resort of Boleta Bay, California, are disappearing and the townsfolk think the growing vagrant population are to blame. A group of teenagers have taken it upon themselves to rid Boleta Bay of the problem by targeting the bums and hobos. But something wicked is lurking beneath the boardwalk and the kids are about to find out just how bad things in Boleta Bay can really get.
The book runs to 500 pages and the headline from me is that that's about 150 pages more than it probably needs to be. There's an awful lot of superfluous narrative here which bloats the pace and deadens the effectiveness of Laymon's usually on-point writing.
Sex - or the fascination with it - has always featured prominently in Laymon's novels, but here it's ridden with teenage angst written by someone who was 43 when he committed it to the page. With the best will in the world, it's hard to recapture that first flush of youthful enthusiasm when you're close to 30 years away from it! And so it proves here. At every opportunity, a sweater is lifted, a breast is glimpsed, the paleness of a thigh is revealed, a warmth is growing somewhere. My awkwardness at reading it had nothing to do with prudishness and everything to do with a lack of credibility. And even the adults are at it every chance they get - including the two cops at the centre of the story. I've no problem with sex scenes in books - really. It's just that in most cases here they're not relevant to the story.
The characters - particularly the teenagers - are hard to like and given they drive the body of the storyline that makes it a hard proposition: how do you get emotionally involved in the stories of people you could care less about? The arch-villain of the story is a throw-away character who you never really come to know and therefore never really come to despise.
The dialogue is, at times, a bit clunky, as though even Laymon realises this is a by-numbers project.
In the end, I just didn't feel there was enough of the author invested in the book to make it a real page-turner. The question is: who to blame? The fact is, I know plenty of authors who write 'long' and rely on the skills of their editors to excise the unnecessary fat (there's a good reason why most authors acknowledge their editors in print!) This book feels like it hasn't really been looked at by an editor at all - and suffers as a result.
I've concentrated on what's wrong. But there's a lot right, too. It is, in true Laymon tradition, disturbing, almost to the point of being in bad taste. It's descriptive and evocative in places and the core of the story is strong enough to make you forgive, if not forget, the flaws. But for a 500 page book, this is awfully shallow.
As the stars say, it's okay. But there's much of Laymon's work that's great.