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Carnies is a horror werewolf novel from respected Australian horror writer, Martin Livings. It was originally released by Lothian Books in 2006 and thanks to the new publisher, Cohesion Press, we now have a revised and updated e-book and a new print edition on the way, with new scenes and a tweaked ending.

I’m all for updating books, and thanks to the e-book revolution, that’s much easier to do. The new edition certainly proves the worth of this, as I found the characters strong and those niggling clichéd moments in the original have been ironed out.

The cover is better too, but unfortunately doesn’t leap out and grab me because there is no discernible structure to the image, and on first glance you might be confused as to whether the book is “Dervish Carnival” or “Carnies”. But these are minor issues.

The story centres around two brothers, one a fledging journalist, the other a directionless… well… he’s not really anything. The interaction is interesting as the two head off to visit a circus that has been operating for over a hundred years, one for a story, the other to find meaning in his life.

Horror fiction is plagued by vampire, werewolf, zombie and serial killer fiction. The fans lap it up, but for authors the challenge becomes writing something new in these genres that are well established and in which most of the tropes have been done to death, and probably need a stake slammed through their hearts to put them out of their misery once and for all. That unfortunately is the benchmark Carnies will be judged against, because this is werewolves, and the tropes are all there.

Many authors try to mix genres to ‘bring something new’ but Livings’ approach is more low key, and this is both a strength and weakness of the book. I found the first half far more interesting than the second, with the interaction between the brothers and the descriptions of the carnival weirdness capturing my attention. The second half and we’re into familiar werewolf territory. Martin Livings had built this up to race into a full dark fantasy explosion of Clive Barker-like horror, but then didn’t. I was hoping for the pace and tension to pick up too, but while it got close, it didn’t quite get there.

That’s not to say the book is terrible, far from it. It reads really well and Livings’ strength is in believable dialogue and intriguing characters. If you devour horror, and have a soft-spot for lycanthropes, then Carnies is definitely worth the read. Martin Livings is most definitely a talented author when it comes to dark and disturbing horror.

Carnies by Martin Livings, published by Cohesion Press.
Review by David Conyers

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