Book Review: ‘Ladies’ Night’ by Jack Ketchum

J.P. Williams
3 min readFeb 19, 2024
Photo by Valentin Salja on Unsplash.

Jack Ketchum is a writer of horror fiction who has enough Bram Stokers to make even the man himself envious. As he explains in the introduction to Ladies’ Night (1997), editors wouldn’t touch the novel at first: “It was the violence, naturally.” But eventually it found a home with Macabre Ink, so strap in. A tanker just crashed and spilled its psychotropic cargo into an unsuspecting city.

That cargo turns all the women into killers of men. New York City cop Lederer is at the scene of the accident with no idea of the horrendipity the rest of the night holds. Tom is at a bar when women on the prowl suddenly decide the only thing they want from a man is a good victim. Scratch, bite, broken bottle, whatever works. Tom’s neighbor Elizabeth is unaffected because she was on an inbound flight when the vapors from the spill were thickest. Meanwhile, Tom’s wife Susan is sexed up, growling, and doing her damnedest to murder their son Andy. Thumbs on the larynx perhaps?

Essentially, this is a zombie novel. It may not be an apocalyptic resurrection of the rotting dead as in George Romero’s classic film Night of the Living Dead or a virus turning people into mindless, twitchy cannibals as in World War Z, but the effect is the same, and in the tradition of the best zombie fiction, the characters are fleshed out enough that you know and care about them but they never get in the way of a ripping, gory yarn. There’s a chapter titled “Headcount,” so expect casualties.

Even better, Ladies’ Night provides brain food for thought. Ketchum writes in the introduction that critics have considered the novel misogynistic and the symptom of a dangerous mind, but these critics can’t have given it much thought. Sure, women are the killers here, and ostensibly the bad guys, but who’s to say the men don’t deserve it? The epigraphs suggest they do, or at least some of them. One of those epigraphs makes the novel’s subtext clear:

“In the war between men and women there are no survivors.”

That’s credited to Norman Mailer, the Pulitzer Prize winner known to spar with feminists, hit people in the head with hammers, and pop up in the TV series Gilmore Girls. He comes from a time, not so long ago, when the war was more grumpy bitching than ideological snipping on both sides of the gender divide. Ladies’ Night ups the winnings in this fraught game to survival. The loser dies.

My only disappointment is that one of my favorite characters, the one I was rooting for, ended up just another body in the street. Chest wounds from a badge with an itchy trigger finger will do that. But such is the way of the devil’s genre. Without mercy, the house of horror always wins.

Rating: 3/5 bookmark tassles

Illustration by E.A. Williams.

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J.P. Williams

I usually write about the intersection of arts and ideas. Right now, mostly lighter, shorter pieces on whatever I feel like.