After the quirky, likable Graverobbers Wanted (No Experience Necessary) introduced us to the world of Andrew Mayhem, guy for hire, Jeff Strand returned with the next adventure, Single White Psychopath Seeks Same.
We open with Andrew “tied to a chair in a filthy garage while a pair of tooth-deprived lunatics” (page 5) torment him with a chainsaw. The scene is a solid exercise in redneck rural horror (played out in the medium-sized city of Chambers, Florida) as well as comedy when the two kidnappers/tormenters first can’t get their power tools to work and then bicker endlessly about whether or not to read their “statement” to the victim before they whack him.
Small Looney set the chainsaw on the cement floor. “Why don’t you read him the statement?”
“Because you frickin’ little moron, we agreed to cut off his arms first to get his attention! That’s why I need you to start that worthless chainsaw! You’re making us look like a couple of idiots. That’s how Andrew Mayhem is gonna die, thinking we’re a couple of idiots! Real nice. That’s just super. Makes my day.”
“Actually , I was thinking that you were never Boy Scouts,” I said, holding up my free hands.
Okay, no. I didn’t really say that. Despite their chainsaw starting inadequacies, these two maniacs knew how to tie a darn good knot. I was struggling as much as I could, but it didn’t appear that I’d get to use clever Boy Scout comment any time soon. As sweat dripped into my eyes, I hoped I’d at least be able to say something wittier than “AAAHHHH!!! MY ARMS, MY ARMS!!! AAAHHHH!” (page 6)
As it turns out, that final bit about having something witty to say before the end arrives is actually a motif in the book. Just about everyone wants to go out (if they have to, no one is particularly suicidal here) with a snappy witticism or comeback.
Anyway, Andrew manages to escape Large Looney and Small Looney by the skin of his teeth and a little boost of luck. He once more gets in trouble with his much put upon wife Helen (the breadwinner of the family and one of my favorite characters in the series) and once again winds up at The Blizzard Room where the tables wobble and the beverages are coffee in name only when chance once more rears its head and Andrew gets a proposal. Not graverobbing this time. An older woman wants him to attend a party with her as a bodyguard because she fears one of her friends intends to kill her. He thinks she is nuts to believe this, but a job is a job. It’s money, and though Roger’s ribbing categorization of the work as “‘Andrew Mayhem, gigolo.'” (Page 20) might cause some friction at home if Helen ever gets wind of it, this is still cash money for relatively easy work.
Of course, Andrew should have learned that there are no easy jobs and nothing is straightforward.
The party is a setup to introduce another crazy person into Andrew’s life. Although the killer strikes at that party, living up to his name during a séance while our hero is in the head, dealing with an upset stomach, he does not materialize in Andrew’s life until he is later trying to share a little intimacy with his wife. For whatever reason, the killer targets Helen, refusing to harm Andrew. Our hero uses this fact to his advantage. As with all good luck in Andrew Mayhem’s life, this spot of fortune has a shelf life.
We stared at each other for a log moment. I was tensed and ready to grab the tire iron, but he looked ready to strike and I wasn’t sure I could beat him.
“Who are you anyway?” I finally asked.
“You can call me the Headhunter.”
“Not a bad name.”
“Are you sure it hasn’t already been taken?”
The Headhunter shrugged. “Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t matter. Nobody who hears it gets to live long enough to look that up. So are we going to do this?” (Page 35)
As it turns out, The Headhunter is only part of Andrew’s problem, and it’s one both he and Helen can deal with. A distraught husband (Craig Burgin) and his private investigator, Thomas Seer, arrive on the scene with the full story: The Headhunter is a member of a collective of killers who are each bringing kidnapped victims to some unknown location for dire purposes. Andrew and Roger were intended to be among the victims, and that puts them in the position of being among the few men who can help those victims to see rescue. Burgin’s wife is among the missing, and he is in the position to offer remuneration for Andrew’s assistance.
Andrew and Roger agree to pose as victims while Thomas poses as The Headhunter. They can infiltrate the group and do whatever is necessary to free the prisoners. All sounds easy, right? Well, not so much.
At the meet-up, a gang of homeless decide to mess with trio, Thomas runs off in pursuit of stolen property, and Andrew is left facing the bad guys who have come for him, Roger and their captor. His solution? Pose as The Headhunter himself.
It is just audacious enough to work, though not perfectly. Soon, he finds himself with a quartet of serial killers (and one wife) whisked away to Alaska and a compound dedicated to the gleeful destruction of victims in a veritable playground of horrors.
Andrew has to hide in plain sight, which means participating in evil, but all the while he is struggling to figure out a way to save as many prisoners as possible. It’s a game of cat and mouse played by a well-meaning schlub who is well out of his depths.
Jeff Strand’s second venture into the world of comic thrillers takes just about everything that worked in the previous volume and delivers more of the same. Alas, the whodunit mystery gets sidelined in favor of a thriller style descent into a hell that would have appealed to the Marquis de Sade’s whimsy—the amusement park is a kind of 120 Days of Sodom in clownface.
The writing engages the mind, and the mating of laugh-out-loud humor and gut wrenching extreme horror scenarios somehow intensifies the experience. The novel goes for the gusto, in terms of gory mayhem, but Andrew’s disgust with the proceedings and his “fellow” maniacal killers keeps the story from going too far off the rails into parody. The book gets splatterpunk gruesome, and yet it manages to do so without losing its humanity.
Although the first book was told completely from Andrew’s point of view, book two gives us some of Roger’s perspective as well. He has a little tape recorder to collect his thoughts at certain key points. It is a great way to incorporate a second first-person-POV into the narrative while keeping some of the suspense intact. Since these are real time recordings, we have no guarantee that Roger will make it to the end alive the way that we know Andrew will. That intensifies the situation since Roger is, like his good pal Andrew, both a well-meaning doofus and a trouble magnet. Much of the focus is, of course, on Andrew himself. However, we get a better sense of his relationship with his kids and his wife. Andrew both gets to play an honest-to-goodness dad talking to his son about getting in trouble for spitting on kids at school and an honest to goodness loving husband before all that family stuff hits the whirling blades and send our hero into hell. There is also a tenderly rendered love scenes. It’s ultimately interrupted but sweet nevertheless. The scene features no actual erotica but plenty of laughs across a series of brief moments, including:
“It’s okay sweetheart,” said Helen.
“It’s not okay. I’m too young to have back problems like this.”
“Well, it’s a small car.”
“It’s not that small.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to make an—”
“I’m sure! We just need to rearrange things a bit.”
Helen winced as I touched the top of her head. “You’re definitely going to have a lump,” I told her. “Sorry.”
“It’s my fault,” she said. “I got carried away.”
“Should we head back home?”
“No. You and I are going to have sexual intercourse in this vehicle if it breaks every bone in our body! Now lean back down and don’t move!”(Page 30-31)
That is a key component to what makes Strand’s fiction work. His characters are regular people with real problems as well as the ones only found in thriller fiction. Not the smartest folks in the world, not the most capable or even the most qualified. However, the heroes have a sense of decency about them. The antagonists can be unrepentant and vile caricatures, Narcissists on the level of a Dean Koontz type villain, but they are more often just overgrown children with no sense of right and wrong. Sociopaths extraordinaire. They are decent foils for the good folks, showing us how fragile decency can be and giving that decency all the more visceral power when it triumphs over evil.
Andrew Mayhem has really grown since his first adventure. Sure, he is still a bit of a slacker hoping to make a score instead of getting a job, but his sense of responsibility has grown, giving him more depth. Jeff Strand shows a little more heart here than in the previous book, which was more of a screwball horror mystery. Here we get a guy who is doing the best he can with what he has, failing more often than he succeeds, but we know he will manage to pull it out in the end somehow. It’s not Kumquat‘s feel good blend of the surreal and the heart by a long stretch, but Single White Psychopath Seeks Same nevertheless offers a quality emotional spine to hang the horror happenings upon, a spine which lets us feel something more than grossed out or soul-chilling fear.
There are laughs aplenty, and these come across on three distinct levels. First up is the general humor, the observations about human behavior that are downright funny. Then, there are macabre jokes that weirdos like me will giggle at, skewed views of the world acquired by watching one too many freakout flicks or reading one too many horror stories. It’s the kind of humor that Robert Bloch perfected in his short fiction, in the mode of that chestnut “I have the heart of a small child … in a jar on my desk.” Then, there are jokes that sociopathic characters share, which only they can really appreciate. Jeff Strand seems to enjoy all these bits, the long passages and the one-liners almost as much as the contorted creations he comes up with for the kinds of games with which psychos amuse themselves.
As a fun side note, there is a reference to Richard Laymon’s Funland here. When the psychos encounter Andrew and Roger in the New York slum in the company of homeless, they address the homeless as “trolls.” The kids who torment the homeless in Laymon’s novel refer to them that way, as well. Whether or not the psycho characters have read the book is unknown (they don’t strike me as readers, really), but the author obviously has.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the novel a fun ride from first page to last, it is nevertheless a wild rollercoaster of action, horror, laughs and thrills with a few worthwhile indulgences for quieter moments. The novel provides solid entertainment, just twisted and funny enough to set it apart from the many, many, many, many books pitting everyman protagonists against serial killers. My preference is a tad more in line with the previous book’s macabre mystery plot, but this work’s relentlessness during its final half is impressive.
Richard Laymon’s wild, weird and sometimes unbearable Funland is available in an eBook edition.
Next up in our Jeff Strand reading series, we check in with the third volume of the Andrew Mayhem series: Casket For Sale (Only Used Once), which sticks the Mayhem family and friends in a backwoods horror scenario complete with booby traps and creepy killers with names like Goblin and Troll. Grab a copy in eBook from your favorite purveyor.
Strand, Jeff. Single White Psychopath Seeks Same. Mundania Press: 2003.
“A Second Helping of Mayhem: Jeff Strand’s Single White Psychopath Seeks Same” is copyright © 2020 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Cover taken from the eBook edition, released 2011. Quotes taken from the Mundania Press paperback edition, release 2005.
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