Madball by Fredric Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A “madball” is carney lingo for a crystal ball, the kind that Dr. Magus the alcoholic fortune teller, uses to manipulate people. Equally adept at manipulation is Burt Evans, a greedy carny sociopath who has found $42,000 in stolen cash. This drives the two main narratives with Magus brilliantly deducing the location of the stolen fortune, and Evans killing without remorse to protect it. The book provides an insider look at carnival life of the era with several fascinating characters and a relentlessly paced plot - since all the machinations need to be completed by the end of the carnival season. At its heart it’s a story about greed and what people are willing to do to get what they want, which covers a lot of bases - stealing, prostitution, murder, etc. since the carneys are not a very lawful bunch. A slice of carnival life, compelling and repellant at the same time, combined with cracking good plotting and dialog place this book near the top of the carnival noir heap. An easy five stars.
Available from Stark House Press Black Gat Books.