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Friday, January 1, 2010

Review: Carny Kill

First thing I noticed, after the disturbing cover of his book, about Robert Edmond Alter was he dropped his characters into a poor man's Disneyland. Alter's alternative to Anaheim was a bunch of swampland in central Florida. Carney Kill came out in 1966, right about the time Walt and company was buying up patches of land under a pseudonym and a year after Alter died. In the story, Cochrane's carnival park is littered with attractions like Tarzan's Tree House instead of the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House and a pirate attraction based on Treasure Island instead of a group of marauders invading a Caribbean villa. Not surprisingly, Alter grew up in California.

In a nutshell, the anti-hero of the book is a wise-cracking grifter who takes a job with Cochrane only to find out the owner has married the grifter's ex-wife. Not even a day later Cochrance turns up dead on a small inlet of the jungle river ride with enough planted evidence to point the finger at the grifter's ex. Soon to enter the plot is a crusty police detective who on one hand likes the grifter for the crime and then on the other seems to be partnering up with him to solve the case. Pretty soon the grifter is hooking up with one of the burlesque dancers from one of the shows. This comes with its own set of baggage as she is being courted by another guy from the grifter's past, one who is out to enact vengeance against the grifter.

Our grifter hero has his own quirks. He likes to egg on his marks to the point he cheats them out of their money just to make them look stupid in front of their dates. He never seems to light his own cigarette; when he takes one out, he rolls it between his fingers until someone lights it for him. And he is never short with making wise with the cops or the people out to kill him.

The secondary cast of characters is great: a literature major who likes to drunk gin, a midget who speaks to no one but plays the part of Cheetah the Chimp, some torpedoes, and a bunch of molls all add color and depth to the book. Some will be killed, some will kill, and others are just there to entertain.

I'm big on pulp literature. Carny Kill became a favorite. I'll read it again.

Four out of five bullets.

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