Warning: This is a R-Rating book. Unsuitable for YAs and anybody with a delicate stomach – it’s extremely graphic, to say the least. However, it is also a good book, and if you are a horror fan, it’s definitively worth a reading.
According to Chuck Palahniuk (http://chuckpalahniuk.net/interviews/authors/jack-ketchum), when asked about the scariest guy in the America, Stephen King allegedly replied “probably Jack Ketchum” because “no writer who has read him can help being influenced by him, and no general reader who runs across his work can easily forget him.” Quite an introduction, isn’t it? So catchy that you can also find it on the writer’s own website, http://www.jackketchum.net. Impossible not to follow it up and grab one of his books. Choice has been not easily made – which one, after all? I settled for Ladies’ Night, even though not as famous as other Dallas Mayr’s (aka Jack Ketchum) novels (http://www.horrorsociety.com/2009/02/28/interview-jack-ketchum). Certainly less notorious than debut novel’s Off Season and the even more controversial and equally famous Girl Next Door, also adapted into a movie. The reason for this choice is that I read somewhere (http://horrornovelreviews.com/2013/12/15/jack-ketchum-ladies-night-review) Ladies’ Night can pass for a zombie novel: instant interest, given my current book dashboard’s composition.
This novel has a story too. As many of its kind, it was considered at the time of writing – early 80s – too violent for publication. It found its way to press much later, in 1997, in a revised, shorter form. It was also the one Ketchum wrote after he went through a writer’s crisis after the success of Off Season. Or so he declares in the Kindle preface of Ladies’ Night (location 76).
The plot, set in a New York in full moon, is simple. A truck spills a mysterious chemical in the streets after a road accident, and women start getting insane – sort of hysterical, mantis-like killers overwhelmingly driven by the two most primordial instincts, eros and thanatos, sex and death. The narrative follows one story in particular, Tom Braun and his wife whom he regularly cheat on during his nights out: too bad, this very night is one of them, and it’s going to become a descent into hell – for him, for his son alone in the flat with his soon-to-be-mad mum, and for the whole city.
It has been written in a review of Off Season that “the scenes are brutal, revolting, disturbing… come to think of it, mere words cannot describe the depth of the atrocities on almost every page” (http://www.sfsite.com/07b/off61.htm); I can say the same about Ladies’ Night, with the addition of some genuine shivers for the ghostly atmosphere that pervades the book. This collective insanity that swamps New York’s females is maybe really due to spilled substances – but you may also suspect some kind of mysterious, and evil, preternatural presence. Or you can simply blame it on the full moon – otherwise scientifically recognised as source of unsettling effects (http://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/417557/Slept-badly-Blame-it-on-the-full-moon): the results are nonetheless devastating, and each page brings a different set of horrors.
Analogies have been made between this story and zombies stories – like the movie The Dawn of the Dead, for example – and I have to say they’re not far-fetched: the horror and the gore are all there, together with a sexual hype that has nothing sexy in it and certainly doesn’t allow for excitement. But there is also something of The Warriors movie influence here – especially when Tom and his newly-found mates have to cross a burning New York to reach Tom’s building and save his son, and you never know which atrocity is awaiting at the next corner.
Do I advise Ladies’ Night? If you don’t care too much for character development and psychological insight, and you are in for some serious urban horror, definitively yes. It’s well-written, fast-paced action and clinically accurate in its descriptions. But you have been duly warned. Finally, as many others (http://www.amazon.com/Ladies-Night-Jack-Ketchum/dp/1887368353/Amazon.com), I really would have liked to read the original version – the longer, 400-page book Ketchum wrote in the 1980’s. I suspect this story’s major shortcomings, characters and their evolution, and some details re: style, are better addressed.
A final question, when you fold it up, is whether Ladies’ Night would make a good movie. My take is definitively yes, of the same kind of the (horror) movies mentioned above. Considering that already five of Ketchum’s books have been filmed so far – The Girl Next Door, The Lost, Red, Offspring and The Woman – you can hope this one find its way to the big screen too.