Robert Bloch - Night-World (Corgi, 1975: originally Simon & Schuster, 1972; Fawcett, 1973, Robert Hale, 1974)
Just one telephone call began a nightmare which ended in terror...
For six months Karen Raymond had not seen her husband. Following his return from Vietnam he had remained in an exclusive and little known sanatorium.
But suddenly the sanatorium was front page news. The doctor in charge had been hideously murdered ... a nurse strangled ... and an orderly stabbed.
Five patients had escaped - five disturbed minds that could kill, maim, or destroy without mercy... and Bruce Raymond was one of them. Where would they run? What would they do? Who would be their next victim? Karen Raymond thought she knew...
Private Sanatoriums and their inmates were something of a Bloch speciality and in 1972 he outdid himself, adapting four of his short pieces for the Amicus classic Asylum and publishing the pacey, under-rated Night-World which might almost be seen as a companion piece to the film: what happens when all those dangerous people have tired of butchering the staff and leg it into the night?
What was that irritating inanity the hippies had leeched onto for their own? Life-style. A pretentious phrase for a filthy, empty existence with no style at all. He was different. His life style was death.
Los Angeles, 1972, at the fag end of hippiedom and the frazzled flower children sour in the post-Altamonte, post-Manson nightmare.
Karen Raymond gets the call from Dr. Griswold while she's writing the copy for yet another ad in a trendy fashion magazine. Husband Bruce, who voluntarily committed himself to the private sanatorium on his return from 'Nam, has now recovered to the point where Griswold is happy to endorse a return home. Karen, surprised and not a little apprehensive, takes the afternoon off and drives over to see Bruce's sister, Rita, who has always disliked her. Rita has been visiting her brother throughout his convalescence while Karen has been advised to stay away, and it's clear that Rita has no intention of surrendering Bruce to his wife now he's 'cured'. The women part on an argument and Karen drives on to the gloomy sanatorium in the forest to speak with Dr. Griswold.
That's odd. The security gates are wide open ....
And the nurse on the desk is poking her tongue out at her ....
.... which probably has something to do with the telephone chord wrapped around her neck.
Smoke! Coming from Dr. Griswold's office and a horrid stench of burnt meat ....
The doctor has received a taste of his own shock treatment.
And all the patients' files have gone up in flames.
Where are the patients?
As it turns out, three of the escapees are fairly harmless and the killer picks them off in quick succession ("it's worse than the Tate - La Bianca murders") and, needless to say, prime suspect Bruce isn't among them. Say goodbye to Jack Lorch, real estate swindler and alcoholic: Edna Drexel, a subnormal forty year old, whose parents put her away when she became too exhausting: Tony Rodell, "pop and rock star" committed because, according to Lieut. Franklyn Barringer, he was "hooked. Freaked out on speed". Actually, Bloch seems to believe that amphetamines are the root of all this long hair evil: "I don't have to tell you what a speed freak's capable of .... when you're dealing with a speed freak, anything's possible". When Rodell is torn apart by his pet Rottweillers, it's because "someone turned those dogs on with speed". Sean has noticed elsewhere that the-man-who-wrote-Psycho had a down on beats and it's glaringly obvious he didn't think much of hippies or rock musicians.
Lieutenant Barringer and his men know there was a fifth inmate, but they're so sure that Bruce Raymond is the killer they don't give much thought to patient X, especially after that nasty incident on the roof. Nor do they take into account Karen's unswerving loyalty to her husband which is putting all their lives at risk .....
Bloch rated Night-World among the five of his own novels he was fondest of and, despite a too-convenient ending, it's well worth your time. It also helps that it's surely the author's most Groovy Age moment. Pop Culture references abound - the Zodiac killer: zombified long hairs grumbling about the "fuzz": "Look, Mom - is that a real hippie?": hot pants. The chapter devoted to Tony Rodell name-checks three hot imaginary bands - The Up Yours, The Wall-To-Wall Sewer and Stockyard Slim & The Pigs - while a record shop on Sunset Strip is running a promotion for the album 1971's Oldies But Goodies). Best of all are Bloch's lapses into his approximation of hipster speak (Chapter 14) and:
"In the foreground, arms folded defiantly across his bare chest, a scowling young man with shaggy hair tumbling across his forehead, the slitted stare of his heavy-lidded eyes suggesting the acid-head. Striped trousers, very tight in the crotch, just suggesting. Behind him, the girl — all angularity and elbows, hands on hips and legs out-thrust. Long straight hair strand-strung on either side of exaggeratedly high cheekbones and sullen slash mouth. The young witch, suffering from malnutrition or stardom in an Andy Warhol film. Midway between the two, a chopper or bike. Not a motor-cycle — only the pigs ride motorcycles; we ride hogs. Karen made a mental note of the distinction: pigs are bad, hogs are good. If she referred to the machine at all in the copy block, she must remember that. On the other hand, the ad was for the striped pants, and she'd better concentrate on the chandise. She began to run through phrases, discarding as she went. Dig, bag, with it, doing your thing - last year's vocabulary, but a dead language today. And the New Generation was presently known as the Beautiful People. Their clothes would be heavy, or funky. Gear."
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.