I approached this highly-rated horror author’s work expecting a lot, and was very disappointed. To illustrate chiefly what’s wrong with it, let me describe a scenario in the book. Picture this: you’re a young woman who was raped when she was fifteen. This rapist comes back into your life out of the blue and kidnaps you. He’s got you in his car right now. Your boyfriend may or may not be lying dead in the boot. You’re wearing nothing but a sweater and shorts, and you’re all wet because you were in the lake earlier. Okay, that’s the scene set; now here’s what happens … You ask the rapist if you can get into the back of the car and lie down, because you’re exhausted. He agrees. You climb over the seat. Your clothes are making you itch because of the water, so you pull off the sweater, bearing your breasts, and pull the shorts around your ankles, bearing pretty much everything else … Okay, folks, what’s wrong with this picture? It’s not the real world is it? Nope. In the world of Richard Laymon, girls take off their clothes at every available opportunity, regardless of how extreme the circumstances; girls hitchhike wearing skin-tight dresses that barely cover the tops of their thighs; girls are quick to put their trust in complete strangers in light of a few dodgy compliments that would make any real girl’s warning lights come on. And the same girls often end up in the sack with them by nightfall. Maybe you go for this larger-than-life stuff (after all, it’s horror, and extremities are the name of the game). Personally, I love fantastical elements in fiction, but in terms of human relationships, I want them to feel gritty and realistic. Otherwise there’s nothing I can relate to, and if I can’t relate to it, it doesn’t scare me.
And it gets worse. Laymon has ample opportunities to create a spooky atmosphere and to describe a breadth of emotions that his characters experience, but he skimps on detail. That would be okay if he was consistent, but he tends to pause to describe the sensation of the water cascading all over the girl’s body in the shower. I’m not even taking a moral stance here; it’s just unbalanced composition.
As for story, there’s nothing new. It’s the usual stalk-and-slash fare, with an ending that is an unpredictable but boring anticlimax. Fiends itself is a novella of 100 pages, and the rest of the book is taken up with a collection of short stories. It’s on the strength of the novella that this review is based. I read two of the stories and couldn’t be bothered reading any further.
Maybe some of Laymon’s other works are better, but I was so disappointed by this one that I doubt I’ll be back for more. In one word: overrated.