Richard Laymon, Among the Missing (Leisure, 1999)
[originally posted 28Mar2002]
Richard Laymon has been churning out suspense and horror novels since what seems like the dawn of history now, and yet is just this side of unknown in his native land. Across the pond, they can’t get enough of him; few Laymon novels don’t get a first press in England that outstrips his total American sales. (This, thankfully, may be changing; his 1998 novel Bite hovered around the edges of a few bestseller lists before fading into American obscurity, at least.) Once again, the Americans are missing out. I’ve never read a Laymon novel that hasn’t at least been a kick in the pants. The best of them are a right cross to the jaw (Tread Softly, the Beast House novels, etc.). Among the Missing, on the physicality scale, is probably an uppercut to the ribcage; it’s pretty durned good, but straight suspense just isn’t what I expect from a guy whose books tend to be populated with mutants, inbreds, vengeful ghosts, etc. Call it my unpreparedness rather than any defect on Laymon’s part that this book didn’t get a higher rating.
Not to say it isn’t good. Where the murder mystery is concerned, this one works just as well as anything you’ll actually find in the mystery section. An engaged couple, on their way to a canoeing outing on Saturday morning, find a headless body by the river. They also find a guy sleeping next to it, who runs off when he notices them. Draw your own conclusions.
Laymon strings the reader along very nicely, throwing in more than enough red herrings to keep both police and reader busy tracking down false avenues of inquiry. It should be noted, as an aside, that it’s quite nice to read a murder mystery where the cops aren’t dumber than the reader. But I digress. Clues come fast and furious, and the action goes just about as quickly. This is one of those four-hundred-page novels that, once you’ve started, you’re either going to quit in fifty pages because you can’t stand it or finish in one sitting. I went the latter route, with a little time off for such extraneous things as food and sleep.
Fans of the mystery genre who haven’t been introduced to the wild and wonderful world of Richard Laymon would definitely be well-served by this book. Horror fans looking for an inroad would probably do better tracking down the Beast House novels. One way or the other, if you haven’t glommed on to Richard Laymon yet, go out of your way to give him a try. He’s one of America’s best-kept secrets. *** ½