The Beast House was published in 1986, roughly six years after Richard Laymon’s debut novel The Cellar. It is part two of what is now referred to as The Beast House Trilogy, easy to find in electronic and newer paperback editions thanks to Amazon picking up Leisure’s catalog of titles after the Dorchester implosion in 2010-2011, ending a long and glorious reign of horror publishing that stretched back into the 1970s.
Not to digress, The Beast House was originally published in the U.S. by Paperjacks in 1986. They also re-issued a now uncommon edition of The Cellar and Beware in 1987. The Beast House picks up after the events of The Cellar with a letter from a girl in Malcasa Point to a bestselling author of “non-fiction” supernatural novels Gorman Hardy. Janice Crogan’s parents run a hotel in the hometown of the infamous Beast House, and obtained a copy of a diary of Lilly Thorn, the first woman who lived in Beast House, which chronicles the woman’s horrific and strange experiences with the beast, including her addiction to sex with the beast.
This is a Richard Laymon novel. If you’ve read his stuff before, you know what to expect. No manner of horror is taboo in his work, which is what makes them so thrilling to read – not the explicit nature of it, per se, but the simple fact that anything can happen to anyone. No one is safe. You know this going in, but that doesn’t mean you’re entirely ready for it.
The set-up of the book continues as the non-fiction author Gorman smells money in the girl’s story and makes a trip to Malcasa Point with plans to write the book and cheat the girl out of her share. (I’m guessing the character’s name is a nod to his friend and author Ed Gorman. There’s also a Brandner Bay in the book, a nod to Gary Brandner, another friend, author of The Howling and more.)
On the opposite end of the spectrum from Gorman, we have two somewhat more likeable characters in Nora and Tyler, two girlfriends looking for an escape form the city who drive up the coast to Malcasa Point. They’re run off the road by some creep, who threatens to beat them up and rape them (I did mention this is a Richard Laymon novel, right?), but are saved at the last minute by two ex-Marines, Jack and Abe. These guys don’t have much to do – just cruising around enjoying their early retirement from the military, so they hook up with Tyler and Nora on their way to Malcasa Point and hang around for a while.
As the story progresses, the paths of Gorman, his side kick, and the four folks mentioned above cross at the Welcome Inn, the only hotel in town, run by Janice’s parents. As Tyler searches for an ex-boyfriend in town, their search leads them to the Beast House, where he worked as a security guard. Since the writer is investigating the house, they all end up there together. Soon, the girl Janice and the writer’s sidekick disappear after a trip to Beast House late one night, and Tyler discovers some disturbing news about her former paramour, linked to his job as security guard at the place. Investigation into the Beast House ensues and leads the group into the inevitable web of mystery and horror.
Not one to give away too much away, I’ll just say that Laymon’s style does not falter here. The prose is clean and swift. This book is easy to read, and the journeys of the characters are interesting to follow – even the smarmy writer guy, hell bent on making millions at the expensive of a naïve girl. As the investigation into the contents of Lilly Thorn’s journal ensues, Abe begins his own inquiries about things that have happened around town, learning more of the mystery surrounding beast house. There is a burgeoning romance between Tyler and Abe which feels genuine. Surpringly for Laymon, there is a low body count for the majority of the book, at least until the end. Horror fans must hang in there with this book. The final 100 pages really roll with heightening action, but the real payoff comes in the last several chapters where shit gets crazy. The final chapters had me groaning and laughing out loud with the morbid glee that only true horror fans know. The culminating scene with Tyler is so over-the-top horrific that only Laymon could pull this off, and only true Laymon fans can probably enjoy it for what it is.
Overall, this is vintage Laymon, highly recommended for his fans. It has been a while since I had so much twisted fun reading the end of a horror novel. Now, on to The Midnight Tour.