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Tread Softly

Novel by Richard Kelly (USA) 1987.

Later reissued as Dark Mountain under the author's real name, Richard Laymon, this was the first of two novels written as 'Richard Kelly', the second being Midnight's Lair. The pseudonym wasn't intended to be permanent or indeed particularly secret, which is lucky because this is instantly recognisable as Laymon's work.

Taking a break from Los Angeles city life, two Vietnam veteran pilots (a replay of the ex-Marines in Laymon's previous book, The Beast House: he persists in regurgitating his characters) take their families on a backpacking trip in the California mountains. With apparently nobody for miles they ought to have a peaceful and scenic holiday. But being a Laymon novel, when they reach the Mesquite Lakes they naturally drop into the lair of a devil-worshipping witch with strange powers and her half-animal son, Merle, who enjoys nothing more than a bit of gratuitous rape, murder and pillage.

Laymon's technique of characterisation through realistic dialogue is unmatched, and here he attempts to take on a touch of the Stephen Kings. Thus we kick off with a slow start, but it builds, really builds: Laymon sucks the reader in like only a few can. And also in common with King, he shows his penchant for young characters, usually stronger than their adult counterparts and pretty much always more interesting. Another good one from Laymon who fails only rarely.

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