* Prices may differ from that shown
Richard Laymon's books almost belong to another time, a simpler era when authors weren't obsessed by visceral gore, severed limbs and making their readers feel sick. Instead, authors relied on atmosphere to generate thrills and chills that would unsettle without bringing nightmares. Yet, whilst Laymon's tales are undoubtedly quite simple in some ways they are also layered, complex and intriguing.
At heart, All Hallow's Eve is little more than a traditional haunted house story. Looming large at the centre sits the Sherwood House, an old abandoned property in which a series of grisly murders were committed 15 years earlier. When numerous local residents receive party invitations requesting their presence at the house on Halloween, curiosity about the new owner reaches fever pitch.
In the hands of a more traditional horror author, October 31st would soon come about and the action would quickly switch to a Halloween-style massacre where the curious locals are butchered one-by-one by some hidden maniac or supernatural force. That's exactly what you'd expect, so Laymon does exactly the opposite. Rather than Halloween itself, much of the plot concentrates on what happens a few days before everyone enters the house for the party; events inside the house on the fateful night make up only the final 40 or so pages of the entire book. Yet, because Laymon spends so much time building up to this climax the final events and revelations are all the more powerful.
The tale focuses on two main characters, Sam and Eric. Eric is a maladjusted teenager, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he has never known his father. Bullied at school by both staff and fellow pupils, he outwardly tries to appear as normal as possible, whilst suffering from the same level of rebelliousness as other teenagers. Sam is a policeman investigating the murder of his boss. He also happens to be in a relationship with Eric's mother... something which adds further complications.
Eric, in particular, is a very well written character. Anyone who has ever been (or has been parent to) a teenage boy will recognise the conflicting emotions and ideas that run through Eric; sympathise with his internal struggle as he comes to terms with the fact that he is not yet an adult, but is no longer a child. Eric is such a well-written character that no matter what he does, you sympathise with him and understand his reactions. He might act in a child-like way at times and do some unfortunate things, but his behaviour is always understandable within the context of his upbringing and his experience of life.
As with Stephen King at his best, this is not just a tale about a haunted house; it is about life in a small town in America. Most of the narrative might focus on Eric and Sam but they are joined by a whole host of support characters, each of whom feels strong and realistic in their own right. Some of these we only glimpse for a few pages as the path of their lives happens to stray into the narrative of this book; but you are left with no doubt that these are real people, leading their own lives, and that when you turn the page and move off to look elsewhere, they will still be going about their business. That's one of the marks of a good book that you believe whole-heartedly in almost every character you come across.
Laymon uses the infrastructure of small town life to create interweaving patterns and links between the town's population, many of which are only gradually revealed. All Hallow's Eve has a readable, undemanding style and Laymon creates enough detail in his places and characters to make them convincing, without falling into the trap of providing far too much information. His prose is easy on the eye and you will find yourself quickly devouring this book. It's one of those titles where you will feel a pang of regret when you finish it because reading it has been a lot of undemanding fun.
Veteran horror readers might be disappointed by the relative lack of gore or hideous monsters, but that's to miss the point of the book. It's not an out-and-out horror book in that sense and is perhaps better described as an atmospheric thriller. Right from the start, Laymon establishes a sense of foreboding and dread. As the book progresses, he adds to this, slowly notching up the tension so that by the end, you are desperate to find out the answer to all the violence and mysterious goings-on that have suddenly visited this normally peaceful town.
Sadly, this is the one major area where All Hallow's Eve falls down. Possibly because of its age (it was first published in the 1980s) and possibly because of the relatively simple structure of its plot, you can see where it is heading a mile off. It doesn't contain an awful lot by way of surprises and despite avoiding many of the traditional "haunted house" clichés, it's not difficult to work out what is going on and who (or what) is behind the grim events. Even those unfamiliar with the conventions of the horror genre will probably work out the ending long before they get to it. Still, this is not a critical flaw since this is a book where the journey is perhaps more important than the final destination.
As I said at the start, All Hallow's Eve has a slightly old-fashioned feel to it and some people will all to readily dismiss it as "boring" because of its relatively sedate pace and lack of blood. It's true that there are some things that are best left in the past. All Hallow's Eve is not one of them.
All Hallow's Eve
Feature, new edition, 1994
(c) Copyright SWSt 2011