NIGHTMARE ALLEY

NIGHTMARE ALLEY
WILLIAM LINDSAY GRESHAM

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is Stanton (Stan) Carlisle’s story, charting his rise and inevitable fall. Set in the depression era, against a backdrop of a travelling freak show, the novel gets off to a great start, rich in characterisation, heavy on ‘carny’ slang and laden with atmosphere. The carny folk are all dishonest, as we would see it now, everything is aimed at fleecing the ‘mugs’ even if only a dime or a quarter at a time.
Stan aspires to more and, through a mixture of deceit and treachery, moves on to working in vaudeville as a mentalist, taking with him Molly, beautiful and not very bright. Over the next few years he moves on to become a spiritualist, styling himself Reverend and fleecing wealthy dupes out of their money. In these sections, again, there is a wealth of detail which I found fascinating.

He betrays the faithful Molly in the worst way imaginable and retribution, when it finds him, is merciless. To reveal any more of the plot would be to wander into Spoiler territory so I’ll stop there.
It’s not an enjoyable book, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is riveting, the first book in a long time where I neglected everything else to finish it. The flow is patchy at times and occasionally parts of the plot beggar belief. Normally, I would award four stars because of this but it gets the fifth and final star because the ending made me gasp aloud at the final twist in Stan’s story.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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