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Spotlight on: Island by Richard Laymon

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Island by Richard Laymon Richard Laymon, Island

Before the announcement of his forthcoming career-spanning short story collection entitled Madman Stan and Other Stories, I had never heard of the late author Richard Laymon. But the minimal research I did after that informed me that he was one to look out for, especially since he was so lauded by his peers: Bentley Little, Dean Koontz, and Stephen King -- just to name three -- couldn't say enough good things about him. So, on seeing Island on my next visit to the library, I picked it up. That's one decision I'll never regret.

Island is 500 pages of tropical terror. Rupert Conway tells the story through a journal kept on what was supposed to be a day-long picnic, but turned into a harrowing experience when the boat of the family who invited him exploded, killing one member and leaving the rest of them stranded on an uninhabited island.

Their main issues at first are keeping a fire going and getting enough to eat, but their troubles increase when they find out that the island isn't uninhabited as family members start being killed off one by one, the men first.

Rupert is one of the most realistic characters I have read in recent fiction: delightfully flawed in his obsession with the opposite sex. Eighteen years old, he spends an inordinate time in appreciation of how the female castaways look in their bikinis, with especially loving descriptions of the differences in their breasts. Not surprisingly, he has fantasies of the daughters (the youngest of which is his age and invited him on the trip), and their mother figure (who isn't much older than the eldest daughter).

But the main point of recommendation for me is that Island constantly surprised me. All through the five hundred pages, I never knew what was going to happen next. This is partially because Rupert often lets his libido rule his decision making and so makes stupid choices, but it is also due to Laymon's imagination. He kept me guessing all the way up until the final sentence and if there's one thing about a novel that will cause me to instantly recommend it, it is that it surprised me because, after all I have read through the years, that is increasingly difficult to accomplish. Combine that with the humorous way Laymon has of looking at even the most terrifying situations, and you've got yourself one cracker of a great read.

Despite its length, Island is also a quick read. It blazes by and Laymon's plotting kept me reading far later than I should have been. I can usually put a book down if it's time to sleep, but I had to know how Rupert's predicament was going to turn out. Although I lost a couple of hours of sleep, it was worth it and I was most definitely not disappointed. Richard Laymon is now on my "must read" list and Island is the cause of it.

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