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Onyx reviews: The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon

Remember those summer days of youth that lasted forever, days filled with endless, countless adventures? The Traveling Vampire Show takes place on just such a day. It is August 1963, and three friends want to sneak into the eponymous show, which will start at midnight in infamous Jenks Field. Handbills splashed around town warn that this is an adults-only event. Dwight, Rusty and Slim—a girl—are all sixteen, in that netherworld between adolescence and adulthood. The prospect of seeing Valeria, the only known vampire in captivity, is more than they can resist. "Watch as Valeria sinks her teeth into volunteers' necks!" the posters blare. "Scream as she sups on their blood."

Jenks Field lies in a dark cluster of wood two miles out of town, rumored to have been the site of pagan rituals and orgies. To forestall such illicit use, Grandville town council built a road and a stadium, installed timered lights, and opened it to the public. Council neglected to construct parking space so Grandville's residents seldom visit the remote field. The only popular attraction was boxing, but that ended when a traffic jam turned into a deadly brawl after one match. The Vampire Show is the first event to take place there in two years.

The three teens set out to scout Jenks Field the morning of the show, hoping to catch a glimpse of Valeria during set up. Rusty bets Dwight that the vampire is drop-dead gorgeous—the loser will have his head shaved.

Things go wrong almost from the beginning. They find the stadium abandoned except for a berserk dog that mauls Slim and corners them atop a concession stand. Dwight escapes to find help and Rusty slinks off on his own, leaving the injured Slim to witness the arrival of the Vampire Show crew. What she sees stuns her.

Dwight enlists the help of his sister-in-law, Lee—the cool adult, the one who never tells on them. After rescuing Slim, Lee secures four tickets to the show, getting a waiver for the three teens to be admitted with her. The friends conjure an elaborate scheme to get away from their parents so they can attend.

The rest of the day, Dwight, Slim and Rusty become convinced they are being stalked by people from the Vampire Show who realize what Slim saw and now want to scare them off—or worse.

Laymon does not shy away from portraying his protagonists as hormonally motivated teens. Dwight is obsessed with sex and smitten with Slim. Their relationship evolves over the course of the day from best friends to something even more powerful by the time they set out for the midnight show. Rusty is rude and crude, his every word filled with teenage innuendo. Slim is a blossoming woman whose abuse history has made her wiser than her years. She is the brains of the group, well-read, emotionally balanced and strong.

Laymon also accurately portrays the penchant young people have for scaring themselves through a chain of "what ifs." Readers will laugh with relief when mysterious occurrences are found to have mundane causes.

Which is why the events that take place during and after the Vampire Show are especially horrifying—Laymon sets the reader up, then unleashes a bloody finale that turns everything upside down, forever altering the lives of the three teens and Lee, their adult co-conspirator. In the final fifty pages, the book kicks into high gear and the novel lives up to its billing as a horror story par excellence, worthy of the posthumous Bram Stoker award it received.

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