Cruel Summer by Lucas Mangum
Publisher: Horned God Press | Release Date: July 24, 2019 | Pages: 44
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Confession: I have never read Richard Laymon. What little I know about the author comes solely from other readers’ enjoyment and criticisms of his works, and what I’ve pieced together was that he was a highly prolific horrormeister who wrote fun and schlocky thrillers featuring a whole lot of T&A and had a particular predilection for the word “rump.” Thanks to various Amazon Halloween Kindle sales, I have plenty of Laymon titles in my TBR, and if they’re anything like Lucas Mangum’s Cruel Summer, a work dedicated to Laymon and aimed squarely at Laymon’s fans, I suspect I’d have a pretty good time with that backlog of books.
Willow has a particular kink — she’s not a fan of direct physical intimacy, but is a compulsive voyeur. She gets off on watching others get off. Mangum introduces her to us in the midst of secretly filming a couple having sex on a secluded beach. As she watches, though, their afternoon delight turns into a double homicide as a masked killer ends their lives and unmasks. Willow has his face on film and runs for her life, pursued by the murderer. She flees into yard of a nudist enjoying an afternoon swim, leading the killer directly to Sarah and her husband.
At only 44 pages, Cruel Summer is a quick read and Mangum wastes no time cutting to the chase in this fairly simplistic short story. It’s front-loaded with naked women and bloodied killers, balancing its Skinemax sensibilities with some nice giallo imagery (although unlike your typical giallo, the killer’s identity is revealed almost immediately in the narrative). We even get mention of “rump” right after the first chapter’s first scene break!
Cruel Summer is straight-forward and enjoyable, but not particularly deep nor erotic despite the presence of copious amount of bare flesh in the first half of the narrative. The crux of the story largely hinges on if the women will live to see another day and their relationship grows into a will they or won’t they? style affair. Mangum does a really nice job drawing Willow and Sarah together, making each woman’s sexuality suitably complex and integral. Willow wouldn’t be in this particular position of being chased by a killer if not for the unique way she achieves sexual gratification and her morally grey choices. Sarah’s exhibitionist streak draw her to the self-acknowledged oddball Willow, solidifying their bond as they deal with a masked killer. Theirs is an interesting relationship and Mangum smartly avoids making the pair an object for reader’s mere titillation, even as we wonder if or how their partnership may ultimately solidify.
Cruel Summer is a low-cal, single lunch break read with a certain degree of style and cinematic flair if you can forgive a few plot holes and narrative conveniences that help keep the leading ladies in danger. It’s fun and energetic, but there’s not a lot of meat on this story’s bones. As far as an ode to Laymon, as somebody who has not yet read that author’s works I’m certainly eager to jump into one soon. As somebody new to Mangum, well, I’m definitely game to read more of his stuff now, too. Anytime a work can make me interested in not just one but two new-to-me horror authors, that’s a big damn win right there.