Anyone who has read some of my reviews knows that i am a huge fan of Richard Laymon and consider him to be the best horror writer out there. Although he is dead his back catalogue is extensive and recently after reviewing a couple of his books i decided to re read some more in my collection. The latest of his books i read was After Midnight.
The story begins with Alice (not her real name but the book is wrote from the first person perspective and this is what she chooses to name herself) who is looking forward to house sitting for her friend while she and her husband are out of town. Alice normally rents a room above her friends garage and is looking forward to having the big house to herself with its big tv and kitchen and is especially looking forward to having privacy to use the swimming pool and sunbathe.
After a relaxing night she is in the big house contemplating going back to her own flat above the garage when she hears a noise outside, the lights are off so she looks out the patio doors and see's a man come from the woods past the back garden and jump into the pool. The man is completely naked and doesn't appear to have brought any clothes with him. The telephone then rings not only scaring Alice but alerting the man in the pool, the machine picks it up and it's a wrong number. The man runs to the doors and starts rubbing himself against them while staring at Alice, she grabs the phone and screams to the wrong caller that there is a man outside trying to break in.
The naked man runs off and Alice begins to feel a bit more safe, she talks to the stranger on the phone who's name is Tony for little while longer and he encourages her to ring the police but she says there is no need any longer. She grabs an antique saber that hangs in the house for protection and begins to clear up all the while trying to make sure the naked stranger is gone. She then decides to go back to her own flat above the Garage. Taking the saber with her she opens the front door to be confronted with a stranger, in panic she swings the saber at his head killing him, after her moment of panic she realises this is not her naked stranger but someone else, it is Tony the man from the phone who must have come to make sure she was ok! Alice needs to get rid of the body and all evidence of his phone call to her but what about the naked man is he still out there watching and has he seen all this? This leads to Alice having the weekend from hell.
Wow. Where did this man get his imagination from? What starts out as a simple enough story about a woman alone and a man outside her house in the dark quickly takes a completely different direction. There is so much happening in this story, with not only the murder of Tony and the naked man but then it segways into serial killers, night time visits to the woods and even more killings.
It really is a weird book and although i did enjoy it it's not one of Richard Laymons best. The character of Alice starts off as meek and afraid and then does a complete 180 and becomes this fearless bad ass who is not afraid of anything or anyone and it doesn't come across as believable in the slightest. I think the main problem for me in the book was the fact that Alice is just not likeable she does so many awful things that she justifies to herself are for her own protection that it's hard to find sympathy for her. This is unusual for a Richard Laymon book as one of his greatest strengths as a writer in my opinion are his characters who you normally root for.
The book is genuinely unsettling and everyone can relate to the idea of a stranger being in your garden at night but the random turns the story takes stretches the credibility to the absolute maximum as far as i was concerned and of course Richard Laymon subjects his female characters to some awful sexual violence in the course of the book.
It had been awhile since i had read this book and in my memory i had thought it better and although it's still better than almost anything else out there in the horror genre it did end up leaving a lingering bad taste in my mouth.
I would recommend the book to people who like horror but it's definitely not one for the squeamish or faint hearted.
One day while scanning the shelves of my local library I happened to discover this horror based novel, which boasted that Stephen King had said 'If you've missed Laymon, you've missed a real treat' on the front cover. Well, I took the great mans advice and took it out for a couple of weeks. Was King serious? Probably not, no. After Midnight centres on a character called Alice who, after her friend Serena goes away on holiday with her boyfriend, has a nice big house all to herself. It quickly becomes apparent how paranoid Alice is being in a large house on her own, as much of the side of the house is made of glass, so people can see in (or out, if you look at it positively). Things are about to go pear-shaped for Alice as she discovers a naked stranger swimming in the pool. He wonders towards the house just after the phone-rings, and he thinks Alice is calling the police, so flees. She has actually been called by Tony, a seemingly insignificant wrong number (they never are, of course), and she tells him of the man in her pool and how scared she was and hangs up. Much of the early chapters in the book are well-written and undeniably tense page-turners - Alice creeps round the house in the dark whilst sensing someone might be nearby and this feeling does rub off on the reader. After Midnight goes downhill from their though sadly, as much of the horror elements are pushed aside for bizarrely-placed sex-scenes (she has sex with a landlord of somebody she accidently kills, about twenty minutes after meeting him!). After Alice's first accidental kill, she finds a remarkable nack to causing people great pain and death often without meaning it. Each time she slips up she is worried whether the police will be on to her and so you have to read through a long-winded section about how she wipes each-and-every fingerprint away from the scene, and this happens far too many times and the amount of problems she gets into means its just not convi
ncing she could clear evidence that easily with a cloth, especially when you see what she does to certain people... Alice, for a supposedly innocent person dragged into a hellish mess, is remarkably cool about using destructive weapons. Guns, knives, swords - you name it an Alice has used it! She slices all the limbs off one victim so she could fit him in her truck! And yes, you have to read about that in looonnnggg, arduous detail too. One particualar annoyance that stems from Alice not being the characters real name (narrating from the future) is that it is constantly explained and re-explained that she had to change it so no-one would recognise her real name and link her to the events in the book, nice idea and one time is acceptable but it appears in brackets even during conversations and tense scenes, at somewhat unnopportune moments. As each situation leads into another that is equally if not more improbable than the last, you look back in absolute bewilderment at the end of the story at how it ended like it did. The story appears to have no real direction to it as Alice is consistantly changing her course-of-action. As a horror novel it is scary in places but becomes either too predictable or completely unrealistic so that you never become particularly engrossed. I suppose because of the mish-mash of scenes and situations you will want to read to the end - more out of curiosity to see how Laymon has sufficently tied-up the loose ends than out of genuine interest, and much like the ending, the book is pretty average. Generally, this is one to avoid especially if you are squeamish, unless you are a complete horror fanatic.
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