Carnival of The Damned is the third circus/carnival related anthology for review that has come across my desk in the last six months.  I had read the other two prior to Carnival of The Damned, and I was highly disappointed with them.  I admit to picking up Carnival of The Damned with hesitation, but after glancing at the table of contents and spying a few authors who I was familiar with, I was pretty sure my experience Carnival of The Damned was going to be much more pleasant.  And I was correct.  Carnival of The Damned had all the ingredients that were missing from the prior two circus/carnival anthologies, namely innovative plotting, strong prose, and the stories were genuinely entertaining.

Three of my favorite stories in this anthology are from talented authors who have never let me down, including Scott T.  Gousward (Ghost Lights), Tarcy L. Carbone (The Mirror), and Gregory Norris (Calliope). But there were other authors, new to me, who also managed to grab a brass ring.

Justin Short contributed a very entertaining tale called, A Sketch of Evil, that’s about, well, it’s about a lot of things including a new boss at the circus who is bat shit crazy, a horny housewife, and a kid who draws nightmares in a notebook.  While the story isn’t complicated, it is involved, and it had me anxious right to the end.

Patrick Flanagan’s, Within Three Pounds, is a violent and bloody story about a carnival booth barker who promises a prize if he can’t guess a customer’s weight within three pounds.  This story took a gleeful twist from what I imagined it would be, and I’m still smiling over the results.

Patchwork, by Hollie Snider was a slow burn of a story with an ending, though telegraphed, really got under my skin and caused me to shiver.  Patchwork is about a couple on their way to Oregon who decide to stop at the girl’s hometown somewhere in Utah.  After lunch they go for a long walk and discover that a carnival is close to town.  The young man is surprised when those that work for the carnival seem to know his girlfriend.  In fact, they seem to know her very well.  And, they also appear to be over-enthused to meet him.

My favorite story of the bunch came from David Heath and it is called, The God Box.  It’s a tale about a carnival owner who invites customers to step into a large box so they can talk and get direction from God.  Things get decidedly weird after the customers leave the box, especially when they come back to the carnival at night after it’s closed.

The stories in Carnival of The Damned all read fresh and original and they are very effective at instilling dread into the reader.  There is not a bad tale in the bunch and I recommend it highly.

Jan 14, 2015

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