I am no expert on horror writer Richard Laymon (1947-2001), but a friend encouraged me to read his vampire novels, and while I don’t find a lot to write about in them, I do find a lot to enjoy. Earlier this year, I reviewed The Traveling Vampire Show (2000), probably Laymon’s best-known vampire novel, but he wrote two others, The Stake (1990) and Bite (1996). I have yet to read The Stake, so I’ll only discuss Bite here.
Like The Traveling Vampire Show, Bite is low on vampire appearances, and although it’s been described as horror, it is not really scary. Therefore, some vampire and Gothic or horror fiction fans might be disappointed by it, but what it lacks in vampires, it makes up for in a suspenseful, sexually-charged story that keeps the reader turning the pages, constantly wanting to know what will happen next.
In The Traveling Vampire Show, Laymon holds the suspense as the characters go through the day anticipating the vampire show that evening. In Bite, he does the opposite, having the vampire show up in the very beginning. I will not summarize all of the plot so I don’t give too much away. I’ll just say there is a vampire and the main characters, Sammy and Cat, have to kill him and then find a way to dispose of the body so they are not accused of murder—though killing a vampire may seem justified, who will believe them that their murder victim was a vampire?
The novel opens when Sammy finds Cat at his door. She wants him to help her kill the vampire who has been attacking her for the last year. Sammy and Cat are in their late twenties and dated in high school. Vampires aside, their relationship is really the meat of the novel and what ends up most interesting to the reader. Sammy is the narrator throughout, and it is clear from the start that he has never gotten over Cat. He is still highly sexually attracted to her, and so he is very willing to help her get rid of a vampire and all the mess that results from it. Plus, unlike in The Traveling Vampire Show where Laymon shied away from actual sex scenes because his characters were teenagers, these adults are able to have plenty of sex, even at some of the most unlikely times.
Once the vampire, named Elliot, is killed, the disposal of the body fills the bulk of the novel. Sammy and Cat decide to bury the body out of state, and so begins a road trip that will be filled with disasters, violence, and many twists and turns. Laymon is a master at keeping the suspense going and the reader guessing what will happen next.
Anyone who likes a suspenseful ride will not be disappointed. I didn’t miss the lack of a (living) vampire throughout most of the novel simply because there was so much else to keep me interested.
My only complaint is that while we have a great villain, why does he have to be gay and a pervert? Sure, gay people can be villains, but they can be villainous bank robbers or counterfeiters or carjackers—instead, there seems to be a trend of them always being perverts, and I find that offensive. Such is also the case in Outlander, as I’ve written about previously. In any case, these gay characters end up being more like vampires than the vampires themselves, which perhaps is intended by the author. In that respect, we can say Laymon was a product of his time, and he may have been more sensitive had he written the book today. That said, homophobia has been at the heart of the Gothic at least since Bram Stoker’s time as many a literary critic of Dracula will tell you.
Regardless of its flaws, the story in Bite does what it sets out to do—entertains—and it entertains extremely well.
Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.