As an aspiring writer, I read not only to enjoy, but to learn. To do this, I bounce around from genre to genre and read along a general vein. Lately, I've been doing my "research" on sexual themes in horror and fantasy. I've been exploring the works of authors such as Lucy Taylor (whose "The Safety of Unknown Cities" is unforgettable), Dan Simmons ("Dying in Bangkok"), and even the originator of the sexual horror genre, the Marquis de Sade ("Juliette").
In my search for works in this vein, I perused my battered and much used copy of "Horror: 100 Best Books". Number 83 is Richard Laymon's "The Cellar".
From Page one I was riveted. Laymon's prose is just the way I like it: concise and to the point. The events described in this book aren't over dramatized, they just happen. Thats what makes this book so effective, it doesn't dwell on the gory details. It makes the events more horrible - Laymon draws a fluid sketch of whats happening, but doesn't paint in a lot of detail. There is a coldness that is exuded in the prose that fits perfectly in with the story...
It tells the tale of Donna and her 12 year old daughter, Sandy. Her ex-husband, Roy, has just been released from San Quentin for raping Sandy when she was six years old. As soon as Donna hears that he has been released, they pack the car and head north, no real destination in mind.
Within hours of his release, Roy shows up on Donna's doorstep and forces his way in. But Donna and Sandy are long gone. He quickly takes to the streets. He needs resources. Roy spots a girls bike in one of the yards, and knocks on the door claiming to be a police officer. When the owner of the home opens the door, Roy steps in and kills him. He soon dispatches the man's wife, and in one of the most horrible scenes I have ever read, he sexually abuses their daughter, Joni, in the bathtub.
After some trouble on the road, Donna and Sandy end up in the small Northern California town of Malcasa Point, a town only notable for the Beast House, a house where 11 unexplainable murders have occurred since the early part of this century. They take refuge in a small motor inn. Donna calls her sister to let her know that she is okay and where she is at.
Roy, anticipating this call, shows up at Donna's sister's house and ties her up. He promises to not harm her if she tells where Donna and Sandy are at. At first she refuses, but eventually she tells. Roy does not live up to his end of the deal and after raping and torturing her, he kills her husband and heads for Malcasa Point with little Joni in the trunk.
What happens in Malcasa Point and in the Beast House comprise one of the finest aceivements of horror literature in the last 20 years. I have read so many "horror" novels, but few have have actually scared me like this one did. It reminded me that there are some people in our society who are animals, in every sense of the word. After about 30 pages I wanted Roy dead. And not some easy, quick death either.
Perhaps what really makes this book a classic is the ending. I was completely unprepared for it. Usually, I can see where a book is heading and predict the ending. Not this one, though. Everything does not work out okay all the time.
I encourage every fan of horror to seek this book out. You will never forget it. I read this one in two breakneck sittings. Laymon pulls you in, strings you up, and begins with the knifework.
This book is definitely for the squeamish.