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Spotlight on: The Stake by Richard Laymon

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The Stake by Richard Laymon Richard Laymon, The Stake

I am as tired as anyone of average, garden-variety vampire novels. But anyone who has read Richard Laymon knows that he never writes anything average. Whether each novel is below- or above-average is certainly up for debate (and there are glimpses of both in The Stake), but run-of-the-mill fiction is simply not Richard Laymon's way.

Horror author Larry Dunbar, his next-door neighbor Pete, and their wives Jean and Barbara, are driving home from an outing when they take a detour that leads them to Sagebrush Flat and what seems to be a ghost town. While they are exploring the remains of an old hotel, Barbara nearly falls through the rotten floor and inadvertently discovers the corpse of a woman with a stake through her chest. Someone must have thought she was a vampire, killed her in the traditional way, then left her here behind a door guarded with a crucifix.

But The Stake is less about actual vampires than it is about the idea of vampires and its effect on people. Larry and Pete are fascinated by the discovery and the discuss it later on. Pete especially thinks it's a great story for Larry to use in a book -- maybe his first non-fiction work. What would make it even better, Pete thinks, would be to go back and get the corpse and bring it home with them. Larry's wife and daughter are out of town, so it would be easy to store it in his garage's attic. Then, later, they'll pull out the stake and see if she really is a vampire and comes back to life.

Here's where The Stake leaves the realm of believability and dives head-first into ridiculousness: Larry agrees with Pete, though reluctantly, and they go get the body. Critics of Richard Laymon's work have cited stupid decisions on the part of his protagonists -- made purely to serve a weak plot -- as one of his major flaws, and it certainly applies here. This novel is full of questionable choices made by otherwise intelligent individuals seemingly made only to keep the plot moving in the direction the author wishes. That good husband and father Larry decides to keep secrets from his family and that goody-two-shoes Lane decides to subtly seduce her teacher are only two of the bigger flubs.

Other Laymon choices, however, are what made it so easy to keep reading The Stake. The characters may be often stupid, but the story was compelling and I could not wait to find out what was going to happen once Larry and Pete decided to pull out the stake. Larry's research into the victim's identity and his dreams of the outcome of the stake-pulling were just as interesting as his daughter Lane's troubles at school. Laymon combines these storylines so that they come together at the end seamlessly and are not in the least predictable. I had no idea what was going to happen, and I can usually predict these things, so surprising me is a sure way to get me to recommend your book.

A few aspects of this novel add a dose of reality to an otherwise unbelievable plot. There seem to be several references to Laymon's own life and writing. Plus, the idea that the book within this book is non-fiction is an intriguing one. The dedication to "Fellow explorers & Ghost town busters" leads one to think (if only for a moment) that there might possibly be more than fiction going on in the pages of The Stake. But, no, that couldn't be, could it?

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