(M.J.E. / Writings / Book Reviews / Horror /
Mendal W. JOHNSON: Let's Go Play at the Adams' (1974)
Review by Michael Edwards - also appears on Amazon.com
Appears on Amazon.com:
Date: 6 March, 1999; revised 12 April, 2000
Heading: The ultimate claustrophobe's nightmare novel.
A young babysitter, Barbara, wakes up one morning to find that she's tied
spreadeagled to her bed. The kids have complete control of her now, and free
rein over the house, and there's no-one within half a mile to interfere - and
their parents are not due back for a whole week. What might possibly happen
within that week? Barbara is helpless, and fearful of what might be in store for
And that is only the beginning: there are many interesting things to try
out on her, many interesting ways of tying her up; a week is a very long time...
This book is one of the most terrifying and claustrophobic novels I have
ever read, and leaves you wrung out and shaking. For once, the cover blurb is
no idle boast. ("A novel more terrifying than LORD OF THE FLIES & THE EXORCIST
combined!" "A horror tale that will harrow you and haunt you long after you
have finished it.")
This is the ultimate book about the effects - physical, mental, and
emotional - of long-term, close confinement. It is the last word about what it
is like to be tied up helplessly; after this, every other book I have read in
which someone is bound is, with but one exception, shallow and unconvincing by
comparison in its depiction of being bound. This novel should be read by any
fiction writer who wishes to convincingly portray what it is like to be tied up
for prolonged periods: the terror, the helplessness, the gibbering mind, the
internal dialogues, the physical restlessness which itself torments. Just
reading it makes you feel the agony of all this yourself. The challenge
for authors would be to write about confinement just as well as this novel, but
without copying it.
Perhaps the only comparable novel I know of is Stephen King's Gerald's
Game, probably the ultimate handcuff novel, which is, however, completely
different - but just as effective.
It is regrettable that Mendal Johnson never published any novels other than
this. This was his only novel - his only published one, at least - and at the
time of his death in 1976 he was working on three other novels.
But writing of such searing, burning intensity lifts it above the
commonplace and speaks of a substantial writing talent. It also leaves you
wondering whether the author was simply writing a novel, or whether he was
expressing something deep inside him that demanded expression, perhaps born of
profound fears, or some personal experience.
The psychology of the vicious kids is chillingly portrayed, and Barbara's
terror is heart-wrenching. Mendal Johnson should have had a meteoric rise in a
career as a highly skilled writer of psychologically-oriented horror, yet he
remains obscure. Possibly the darkness of his story prevented it from becoming
more popular on the mass market. His meagre output, itself puzzling in the
light of his great writing skill and perceptiveness, might have also counted
against his becoming better-known.
It is interesting to observe that Steve Vance's horror novel The Abyss
undoubtedly refers to Johnson's novel at great length (without resorting to
plagiarism). Johnson's novel is mentioned in The Abyss as a novel some of
Vance's characters had read, and this inspired the actions of some of them.
However, Let's Go Play at the Adams' is not mentioned by name, just alluded to,
and the author's first name is changed from Mendal to Martin, and his surname
not mentioned at all. I can only presume this was for legal reasons, although
there is no reason to think there would be legal problems anyway with simply
alluding to another novel; but the plot referred to is so similar that it cannot
And it is interesting that, towards the end, Vance's novel includes a
drug-induced vision one his characters has in which she actually visits Martin's
(Mendal's) widow and learns more about him and the circumstances in which he
died. However, although this information given by Vance about Martin roughly
corresponds with Mendal Johnson's life with regard to time of death and the
like, it should be noted that the detailed circumstances around Martin's death
as described in The Abyss are fictional only, and do not correspond to any
known facts about Mendal Johnson.
The details of Johnson's life and career still seem a little hazy, although
my thanks go to Ray Girvan, Barry Schneebeli (who both reviewed the novel on the
Amazon page where this review also appears), and Steve Vance for various pieces
of information which helped me sketch out a few facts about Johnson here. If
anyone who reads this review knows more about Johnson or his work, I'd love to
hear from you.
It is interesting also that Barry Schneebeli has written a so-far
unpublished sequel to this novel, called Game's End, which explores the
aftermath of the events related by Johnson.
There is also another related work by Pat Powers. It is a continuation of
the story more than a fully-fledged sequel, since it is not self-contained, and
assumes that one has read Johnson's work. Further discussion of this work can be
found in note [c] in my Johnson book listing.
I have further comments about this novel and how it makes its impact on
the reader - but, because it does give away the crux of the plot, I
have put this on a different page of spoiler
information. Please don't go there unless you have already
read the book, or don't mind having it completely spoilt. There is no further
warning or prompt: clicking on the link takes you straight there.
E-mail me about this book.
Click here if you need an
explanation for the strange appearance of the e-mail address which will appear
when you click on the e-mail link, or if you don't know what you need to do to
make the e-mail address work properly.
Original text copyright (C) 1999, 2000, by Michael Edwards.
More material on this web site related to Johnson and Let's Go Play at
the Adams' (LGPATA)
Book listing for Mendal Johnson
My essay: The "Abyss" Connection
An essay by myself on the connections between LGPATA and Steve Vance's
horror novel The Abyss.
Barry Schneebeli: Game's End
My review (still being written) of Barry's sequel to LGPATA.
Amazon.com customer reviews
Six customer reviews of LGPATA; in chronological order: Charles Kinbote,
Jo Ryan, Barry W. Schneebeli, Ray Girvan, Ian Myers Pritchard, and Michael
Edwards (the review given above). Note, though, that Amazon always present
reviews in reverse chronological order, so the order of the 6 reviews will be
the opposite of the order I just gave. Also, although my own review is given as
a fairly recent one on the Amazon page for LGPATA, it is actually the
revision of an earlier version of the review which was the first to appear on
the Amazon page. This was accidentally mutilated somehow, and Amazon suggested
I resubmit it as the best way to correct this, so I had the opportunity to
revise it slightly and bring some of the information about Mendal Johnson up to
Ray Girvan's web site: The
Apothecary's Drawer: front page
Several items of interest can be reached from here. They are very
easy to find from here; first of all, select "Yes" to the prompt "Onward to the
Kilgore Trout page?", and links to featured items appear on the next page. The
relevant links are as follows:
Erotic Fiction: A Writer's Perspective: Essay by Ray (not
directly linked at Ray's request)
Discussion of erotic fiction in general. The link is in the body of the page,
and another also appears in the sidebar on the left. Although LGPATA is
at best only borderline as erotic fiction, the essay mentions it briefly in the
main text and in a footnote (to which a link is provided); the footnote (which
links back to the proper place in the main text) also mentions a sequel to the
novel by Barry Schneebeli called Game's End.
Johnson: Ray's page about Johnson
This page seems to have become the page about Johnson on the web. Type
in "Mendal Johnson" or "Mendal W. Johnson" in a search engine, and of the dozen
or so results you'll get, this will probably come up at the top, and is probably
the most informative entry of all. Once again, links appear both in the body of
the page and in the sidebar at the left. A couple of links here lead to
sub-pages related to Johnson's novel. They are best read after the main page
has been read, so I won't provide separate links here. They are very easy to
find from the main Johnson page, and once again appear in a sidebar at the left.
The sub-pages are:
Origins: Ray's speculations about the possible origins of LGPATA
There is no certain information about what inspired the novel, and Ray makes it
clear that this is speculative; but his ideas, and his relating of the novel to
aspects of Johnson's own life, are very interesting and persuasive.
The Abyss: Ray's page on the connection with Steve Vance's The Abyss
This is Ray's summary of my essay mentioned above, The "Abyss"
Connection. He partly quotes my essay, and partly paraphrases it. See
above for the link to the full essay.
Game's End: Ray's page about Barry Schneebeli's sequel, Game's End
Barry Schneebeli's web
Still under construction. There is not much here yet apart from a brief mention
of Barry's novel Game's End, so it's difficult to guess what he might be
planning to put here. But Barry's e-mail address is given here for anyone who
wants to contact him; and presumably this web site will be used to give any news
concerning Barry's writing work (Game's End, and any further work Barry
Kills! Official Richard Laymon web site, kept by Steve Gerlach: front
page. Contains the following reviews:
Steve's review of
Steve's review of
Barry Schneebeli's Game's End
Brief review of
LGPATA by Felix Dilke (mentions Barry Schneebeli's Game's
This page has disappeared, and a look at http://www.larva.demon.co.uk seems to indicate that Felix Dilke has removed his entire web site, and is planning new content. It was a brief description in a list of books that Felix Dilke found especially disturbing, and perhaps the main point of his comment was that the novel's horror was all the more pronounced for not involving supernatural elements, and taking place in a cosy domestic setting.
Search at AddALL.com for a used copy of Let's Go Play at the
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
Mendal W. Johnson: Let's Go Play at the Adams' (this page)
The "Abyss" Connection
Game's End - a sequel to Johnson's novel by Barry Schneebeli
This page created on Tuesday, 11 April, 2000;
last modified on Saturday, 12 July, 2003;
links updated on Tuesday, 18 December, 2001.