Brian James Freeman continues to set loose a handful of authors to explore some Halloween horrors in Halloween Carnival Volume 2. As with the prior volume, there are five authors with five stories, all centered around the best holiday on the calendar, although some of these tales are more strongly pumpkin spiced than others...
MR. DARK'S CARNIVAL by Glen Hirshberg
Hirshberg kicks off the volume with a wonderfully written short story filled with the rich lore of Mr. Dark's Carnival, as presented to us via a college historian who lives for Halloween. His favorite holiday, unfortunately, is tainted by the sudden suicide of a former PhD student who had previously been collaborating with him. I loved Hirshberg's prose, but couldn't completely buy into the twist ending and abrupt finish to this one.
THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF MY SISTER by Lee Thomas
Halloween lingers deeply in the background of Thomas's short story, and the only ghouls to be found here are of the awful human variety. While it lacked that certain Halloweenish flavor, the story itself is damn good and involves a brother reminiscing about better times while his sister lays in her death bed. Although they've had a severe falling out and hadn't spoken to each out in years, he may be responsible for her current state of affairs, even if unknowingly. I dug this little powerhouse of a short story.
MISCHIEF NIGHT by Holly Newstein
After two solid shorts, I guess it was time for this anthology to slow down a bit. Unfortunately, I didn't find Newstein's story to be anything special. While it's not bad, it's not wonderful either and it felt fairly contrived. It’s set on the night before Halloween, and involves an inadvertent home invasion after a prank-playing kid seeks shelter. It’s kinda bland, and like the prior story, with its lack of overt supernatural influences, it just doesn’t scream Halloween to me...
THE GHOST MAKER by Del James
A low-life hitman gets invited to a Halloween party and frets about his costume. That’s seriously it, and it takes a long time before we even get to that part--long enough that I had to double-check and make sure I had opened the right Kindle book and was still reading a Halloween anthology. While there's some good one-liners, the story is instantly forgettable and the Halloween aspect feels like a poorly tacked-on afterthought.
THE PUMPKIN BOY by Al Sarrantonio
After several stories disappointingly lacking in the Halloween spirit, Sarrantonio makes up for it in spades with his pumpkin-headed boy Frankenstein. There's kidnappings, a possible serial killer on the loose, urban legends, Halloween carnivals, and a nifty little culprit behind all these shenanigans affecting Orangefield. Thank goodness somebody remembered to bring the Halloween spirit with them!
While this second entry in the Carnival series is significantly weaker than the prior installment, there's at least a few saving graces. My main complaint is that I just didn't get a strong enough sense of Halloween throughout, and some of the authors do little more than pay meagre lip service to the holiday.
[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]
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