If you are a Richard Laymon fan, Among the Missing is definitely a book you are going to want to add to your personal library. However, before going any further with this Among the Missing review, I’ve got to point out the book is probably better described as a crime novel than a horror story.
Although the book has enough dark elements for it to be loosely classed as a horror novel, it’s really more of a mystery. It’s just a mystery that’s written in Richard Laymon’s inimitable style. If you’ve already read a few of his books, I’m sure you will know what I mean. If you haven’t, reading Among the Missing will provide a good introduction.
The story begins with a man waiting beside a road that runs through the woods. He’s there for a late night rendezvous with his lover. When she arrives, wearing clothes that are little more than a token gesture of being dressed, he jumps into her Jaguar’s passenger seat and they head off to a romantic spot he tells her about. It’s called The Bend.
When they arrive at the bend it’s every bit as romantic as he has told her it would be. Moonlight reflects on the rippling water of the river and a gentle breeze blows through the trees. If the girl had known she was going to die, I suppose she couldn’t have chosen a better place to do it. But she didn’t know and if she had any choice in the matter she would have probably skipped the moonlight on the water and chosen to live.
Several hours later, when the sun is up, Bass Paxton and his fiancee Faye arrive at The Bend. They have their canoe with them and plan on using it to make the 20 mile trip down to the lake. Before they even get chance to put the canoe in the water, the couple notice what appears to be two people—a man and a woman—lying near the water’s edge. The woman seems to be naked. First appearances can be deceptive because the woman is not just missing her clothes, she’s also missing her head. When the man hears Bass and Faye approaching he runs to the river, dives in, and then swims to the opposite bank. Faye buries her head in Bass’ chest. Filled with shock, Bass cries out, “My God! He’s got her head!”
Bass and Faye aren’t the main characters in Among the Missing. Sheriff Rusty Hodges and his daughter-in-law Deputy Mary ‘Pac’ Hodges have that particular honour. Pac, who is sometimes called The Pac, had been a promising gymnast until a knee injury knocked her out of the Olympic finals. After that she began throwing herself into police work instead of over high bars. Then, two years after joining the Sierra County Sheriffs Department, Pac married Rusty’s son, Harney.
When the call comes in about the body at The Bend, Pac and Harney are in bed. They’re busy with an early morning celebration of their third wedding anniversary. It’s not the best of timing, but what can you do? When you gotta die, you gotta die and the girl didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. The celebration is over and Pac rushes off to join Rusty at the crime scene.
Among the Missing is 218 pages long and I have got to say that with names like ‘Pac’ and ‘Bass’ it has some of most interesting and unusual monikers in Laymondom. I’ve read this one twice now, it isn’t one of my favourite Richard Laymon books, but it is a good story. Among the missing is primarily a whodunnit, but there are a few interesting sub-plots. For instance, will Pac and Harney ever get any peace to celebrate their wedding anniversary? Then there’s the question of where Faye has disappeared to. Will her room-mate manage to succeed in seducing Bass in her absence? That’s a good question too.
Of course, there are some very unsavoury characters in Among the Missing. It wouldn’t be a Laymon book without them. You need at least one unsavoury character in a story like this anyway or you wouldn’t have anybody to man the hacksaw for that all-important beheading of the innocent victim.
The main unsavoury character in Among the Missing is a Guy called Merton and ‘unsavoury’ is putting it mildly. As is often the case with Richard Laymon novels though, some of the characters are not what they seem and there are always plenty of surprises for the reader to discover while flipping the pages. With a Laymon book you can never be sure what will happen next.
I’m going to end this Among the Missing book review by providing a warning. Richard Laymon was a talented author who didn’t pull any punches. Some of the scenes in the book are pretty gruesome. If you are easily offended or faint-hearted, Among the missing won’t be for you.