Carnival of Death by Bill Crider (47North, 2012)
The 9th installment of the Dead Man adventures, Carnival of Death allowed series creators Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin to bring prolific novelist Bill Crider into the fold. Listed as a major influence on the series, Crider had written over 75 novels, mostly in western and adventure genres. With his detailed knowledge of what made the classic Gold Medal Books work, he was an excellent choice.
In this episode, Matt Cahill, the man who was twice born, is working security for Cap’n Bob’s Stardust Carnival, traveling through the southern USA. Most of his duties involve keeping the carnies from beating each other up and stopping trouble with the locals. The owner of the carnival doesn’t want the cops called for any reason. Mr. Dark, Matt’s spectral nemesis, has yet put in an appearance.
But strange things have started happening since Matt took the job. Madam Zola, the fortune-teller, discovers she really does have “the gift”. Actually a woman named Gloria who fled an abusive home as a teenager, Madame Zola learned palmistry from a book. She discovered she had a knack for telling people what they wanted to hear. Now, she’s seeing into the real future and present of the people who come to see her. And what she sees isn’t always pretty. When Madam Zola does a reading on Matt she sees a dark body surrounding him, almost as if he has a twin.
The book opens with Matt dispatching a group of high schooler boys who are trying to rape a high school girl. No sooner than he’s taken care of them, 2 of the snake charmer’s snakes try to kill her. And earlier in the day, Matt has had to forcibly eject an unruly customer. It all smells of the influence of Mr. Dark, who is about to unleash a new set of terrors.
Crider is a professional writer of the highest caliber. You can feel it from this passage:
“After all, while not exactly affectionate, the pythons generally behave well onstage, and they return human affection as best they can in their reptilian way, which is to say they hardly ever kill their owners as long as they’re treated with kindness and respect.
Which was how Serena of the Serpents (real name, Louise Parker) had always treated Clem and Clementine (their real names), the two Burmese rock pythons that performed with her. It wasn’t much of a performance, to tell the truth. Mostly, Serena moved lazily in time to some snaky music played over a crackly speaker system, striking an occasional semi-erotic pose while Clem and Clementine slithered around her scantily clad body.”
When Mr. Dark does make and appearance, only Matt can see him. Time freezes and Mr. Dark makes a little jest which is a harbinger of horrors. But Matt is never able to do a thing, being frozen himself. Mr. Dark exits and the carnage proceeds.
The depiction of the carnival reminds me of the ones I used to attend as a kid in the Midwestern US. A few cheap attractions, some games you can’t win, and a lot of sugar candy. But after reading Carnival of Death, I’ll be staying off the rides.
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