BIG TOP TALES
Edited by Jim Beard & John Bruening
This is such a fun anthology and we want to applaud editors Jim Beard and John Bruening for not only bringing together a half-dozen truly exciting, fresh stories but for coming up with the concept in the first place. When you consider the fact that there were hundreds of pulp titles in the 30s and 40s and that they covered almost every conceivable topic fiction might offer, it is a minor miracle these two intrepid editors actually found one that hadn’t ever been utilized. And in doing so have given New Pulp a really exciting new theme.
The setting is 1956 and circuses are dying out in America thanks to the advent of highways and television. No longer do the citizens of small towns and villages have to depend solely on these traveling shows to provide them with excitement and entertainment. And so the members of the Henderson & Ross Royal Circus travel the land wondering how much longer their way of life will continue. Here’s a quick look at the six terrific entries that make up this first volume of “Big Top Tales.”
“Trial of the Scorpion,” by Frank Schildiner features Marko the Knife Thrower as he confronts the evil twisted genius who raised him as a child. While in San Francisco, Marko is called before the Master to answer charges of betrayal leveled at him by a rival member of the organization and can only prove his innocent by participating in the Trial of Scorpions. Schildiner is one of the most imaginative writers in New Pulp today and this story is both gripping and fun. Here’s hoping we see the Master again soon.
Up nest is “Deadly Triangle,” by Nick Ahlhelm and stars trapeze artist Lulubelle Rose Jensen, the circus’ trapeze artist. This one is a murder mystery with Rose being targeted by a serial in St. Louis. Fast paced with a terrific finale worthy of the Big Top.
With “Broken Bones,” writer Rocko Jerome introduces us to the Skeleton Man, Parker Stente, in a sad, sweet melancholy story about love, courage and destiny. This one surprised me in such a wonderful way.
In the “Ringmaster’s Son,” by Ralph L. Angelo Jr., circus master of ceremony, Tim Tennyson’s reckless past comes back to haunt him when the train stops in the little town of Wellsboro, Penn. A woman from his past claims to have given birth to his son twelve years earlier. Is she telling the truth or is her claim a scam to blackmail the flamboyant Ringmaster?
Next we have John A. McColley’s “A Trunk Full of Memories,” in which the Elephant Lady, Daphne, is confronted by an old flame from her German past; a one time lover corrupted by the Nazis. Having built a new and positive career in the circus, with her elephant Surlee, she will fight to maintain that life no matter the cost.
Finally writer Sam Gifford wraps everything up with “Because It is Bitter,” the story of the young 15 hear old roustabout, Joey, and his first crush on a girl. In this instance she is a local bareback rider and his experience is both tender and heartbreaking. A coming of age amidst the sawdust of the Big Top.
Having known many such traveling shows as a youngster in rural New England while growing up, these stories brought back long forgotten memories of a simpler time in America. This is a stellar collection and brings with it a unique nostalgic magic that will linger long after you finished it. Highly recommended.