Summer Reading: TO WAKE THE DEAD by Richard Laymon
Until the last decade, Richard Laymon's books remained relatively hard to find in the US, and sadly, Laymon died suddenly in 2001, just as Leisure had begun re-issuing several of his titles for readers who once had to seek out relatively expensive British editions. His style makes him ideal for summer horror reading: crisp, intensely visual sentences, with narratives driven by punchy dialogue and marked with generous servings of sex and violence. In recent years, I've enjoyed discovering (or re-discovering) favorites like ISLAND, THE BEAST HOUSE, ONCE UPON A HALLOWEEN, BITE, and the absolutely masterful THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW. To the best of my knowledge, TO WAKE THE DEAD (British title: AMARA) did not see publication in any form until 2002--a shame, since it joins these others as one of his most entertaining efforts.
As usual, Laymon pumps this book full of adrenaline, giving us a blissfully entertaining mummy novel, the kind that Bram Stoker would NEVER have imagined for JEWEL OF THE SEVEN STARS. Laymon's mummy, Amara, has earned the gift of eternal life after giving the Egyptian god Set a son. Her resurrection takes place in the Charles Ward Museum (wink, wink to Lovecraft readers), ultimately affecting the fates of a large cast of characters. In fact, TO WAKE THE DEAD represents a departure from the usual structure of a Laymon novel, as he weaves together different narrative arcs, many of which do not have an obvious connection to Amara's path of terror until the very end. Discovering Laymon's overall narrative design marks part of the pleasure of reading this novel, but the rest stems from the delirious violence that takes place, as Amara rips, bites, and shreds her way through the cast of characters. Laymon wrote novels that seem designed to entertain himself, and fortunately, we now have the option of sharing in the joy, as TO WAKE THE DEAD so aptly provides.