Book Review – After Midnight by Richard Laymon

8.5
Very Good

after midnight reviewMurphy’s Law is ever present in Laymon’s book about “Alice,” a woman whose life spirals into a frenzy of covering up accidental deaths after an encounter with a stranger at her house – you guess the time – has her murdering innocent people. Alice isn’t a normal woman who calls the police; instead, she covers up the evidence in order to hide her mysterious past. Told from her own perspective, After Midnight keeps escalating in thrills and twists, taking Alice and the reader into a situation which seems a point of no return.

Laymon’s plot is a labrynth of ridiculous events and coincidental happenings, but it doesn’t matter – the narrative is entertaining as hell, especially told from outspoken and unique Alice. And even if the plot is a bit farfetched, it’s specifically designed to be, taking the reader through an action-packed few days that leave no room to breathe.

Alice’s persona at first seems annoying, but after delving into the book, she becomes a secretive character who hides a lot of her past. What she chooses to tell the audience isn’t much, but it keeps the reader engaged, totally engrossed in her thoughts because she has such a mysterious past. There’s always a hope that Alice will let something slip, and she occassionally drops hints about her history, but in her own way she’s as elusive in speech as she is in her actions.

Laymon excels at creating evocative characters, and After Midnight‘s cast is no different. Alice is targeted by a few less-than-upstanding individuals, who we feel to be lower than dirt. How dare they try to kill our protagonist! But there’s an emotional hypocrisy to the audience’s reaction – Alice continues to kill off people to protect herself, at times sentencing innocents to a series of hellish events in order to remain hidden. Her actions are just as questionable as the serial killers that are after her, but we tend to overlook this fact because of her persuasion and point of view. It’s an interesting psychological standpoint that Laymon subtly hints at.

After Midnight is full of substance, and not lacking in grotesqueries. There’s rape, torture, and a lot of sex and visual nudity. There’s violence and sadism. But more than that, there’s an outlandish look at Murphy’s Law in action and a chain of events that cannot be altered. Alice provides good testimony that actions have consequences; it just depends on how far one is willing to go to escape them.

It’s a fast read, one full of adventure and suspense. Ironically, Alice provides a lot of comic relief, and there’s a similar psychosocial critique to the comedy as there is in Alice’s hypocritical actions. One can’t help but laugh at the unthinkable, morbid things that happen to Alice in a few short days. But what we’re actually laughing at is what we’re uncomfortable with (rape, murder) that seems atonal to how we really think. “Why are we laughing?” and “Is this actually funny?” are questions that we don’t ask in Laymon’s book. As an audience, we’re so absorbed with Alice’s success in escaping from the law that our own conscience plays little to no role in how we read the novel’s subject matter. Hidden or not, Laymon’s novel gives me a great read but also a thought-provoking question: If we were in this situation, would we act without conscience as Alice does? Are we laughing because we secretly understand?

Verdict
After Midnight is full of substance, and not lacking in grotesqueries. There's rape, torture, and a lot of sex and visual nudity. There's violence and sadism. But more than that, there's an outlandish look at Murphy's Law in action and a chain of events that cannot be altered.
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