Some small towns are friendly while others hold dark secrets. The Australian town of Tillbrook has been home of the Dervish Carnival for over 100 years but several of the townspeople are afraid to visit it. The people who run it aren’t human and aren’t friendly. The carnival is one of the outback’s best kept secrets but that will soon change when journalist David Hampden receives an anonymous letter about the carnival.
David is down on his luck and he sees this carnival as a throwback to a simpler time and a story about it may be his ticket to rebuilding his career. He takes along his brother Paul, an unemployed photographer who has nothing going for him. Both Paul and David are hoping for a lot from this trip but and they get more than they bargained for.
Carnies by Martin Livings is a roller coaster ride, it starts with a slow crawl uphill, it hits that first drop and the wild ride begins. We start with a story about two brothers who have a strained relationship and horrible home lives. From there the story expands, we hear more about their background and get into the mythology and secrets of the carnival. Carnies seems like a simple story in the beginning but gets more complex as it moves along.
Martin makes you care about Paul and David. David is the older more responsible brother and for a major part of his life he had the task of raising his younger brother Paul. They both resent each other but at the same time they love each other. They show this by looking out for each other when things at the carnival go bad.
The thing I liked best about this book was the way it’s told. You get lured into a false sense of security thinking that nothing scary is going to happen. Even when they first get to the carnival nothing happens but the tension builds as you see some of the oddities in the freak show and realize that this carnival doesn’t rely on special effects. It’s almost like reading two books, the first half you get to know the brothers and in the second half you see them go through dramatic changes and watch them try to survive in a battle of good versus evil.
Where the first half of Carnies is dedicated to building tension, the second half is like a blood bath. There are two great battle sequences that are shocking and violent. There are also a couple of death scenes that after a slow start remind you that this is a horror novel. The best part is the characters. I liked how one of the scariest looking creatures in this book isn’t really that horrifying. Also I liked how one of the Carnies tries to manipulate everything to her life advantage and just about destroys the carnival in the process. Yet she still comes across as a sympathetic caring person.
Carnies is the perfect horror novel. All of the characters have their good sides and bad sides. In the beginning you think you know who the bad guys are going to be but then you see that all of the characters are shades of grey and they change throughout the story. To me a horror novel only works if it gives you characters that you want to see survive and Carnies does just that.