Dreadful Tales by Richard Laymon

A review of the horror short story collection Dreadful Tales by Richard Laymon.

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Dreadful Tales, a collection of short stories by Richard Laymon, is one of the first—if not the first—book for grown-ups that I ever read. I’d revealed to my mother that I was writing a story, and she gave me some very good advice: “If you want to write books for grown-ups, you should probably read some.” She then gave me a couple of books, including Dreadful Tales. There are a total of twenty-five short stories in the book, and a few of them have actually stuck with me all these years later. Let’s look at a few highlights, both good and bad.

‘Invitation to Murder’ was a very good way to open the book. The story follows someone having problems with their neighbour playing music too loudly. It was clever, well-written, and had a really great twist at the end that was done very well. It also didn’t have any sex in it whatsoever. Absolutely none.

‘First Date’ was probably my favourite story in the book. It’s the tale of two youngsters going on a first date in a graveyard. It was really sweet. I think it should have ended a bit earlier than it did, though. Probably just before the gratuitous fellatio scene at the end.

‘Good Vibrations’ was weird. A woman is sunbathing on the beach when she catches the attention of a chap nearby. Naturally, as every woman wants, he comes over and starts applying sunblock on her and they have sex in the sand. I say in because the man vibrates them both into the sand. It was weird, and very sexual.

‘Mop Up’ closes out the book, although it seems like a very weak ending. It was a generic zombie-attack-survivor story, which had a very obvious ending, where one of the survivors thought their companion was infected. They’re having sex, which everyone does during a zombie apocalypse. He’s a bit too keen so she thinks he’s infected, not just amorous.

In case you couldn’t guess by now, there’s one consistent issue I have with the book. It read like it was written by a thirteen year-old who’d seen porn for the first time and couldn’t stop thinking about sex. Some of the stories simply use sex and the graphic nature of what’s happening as a shock tactic, like one where a couple of teenage boys save a naked woman in the forest, only she wants to kill the attacker so offers the boys sexual favours if they help. Or one where a couple pick up a hitchhiker and he starts assaulting the woman.

I have no problem with sex in a book, however, the sex is absolutely everywhere and adds nothing to the overall story in these tales. The best way I can describe this book is by saying that it’s like the later Saw movies: flashy for the sake of being horrible, or disgusting, with no substance apart from the few nuggets of some really good storytelling. I can’t recommend this book to anybody, and when I asked my mother why she’d given me a book filled with sex, she told me she hadn’t read it.

David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.

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