Halloween Carnival: Volume Five

Edited by: Brian James Freeman

Published By: Hydra

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                Ah, I have reached the final volume of Halloween Carnival in record time – a full week before Halloween!  That’s because the stories are just so good in this series, you have to use sincere will power to put the books down for eating, sleeping and work’s sake (ah, who am I kidding – I can read while I eat).  Anyway, I now present a review of Halloween Carnival: Volume Five for your Halloween reading pleasure:

                This volume opens with Devil's Night by Richard Chizmar, editor of countless dark fiction anthologies and Cemetery Magazine and a dark fiction author in his own right.  Told in the first person, this tale is all about murder in a small town.  It all begins when a high school teacher witnesses the dumping of the body of one of his female students.  Instead of calling the police like he should, he actually heads to his high school, certain he can find the person in the Phantom of the Opera mask at the Halloween dance taking place there.  But when he does, what happens next…well, let’s just say that the newspapers got it a bit wrong.

                Lisa Tuttle’s The Last Dare stars a woman named Elaine Alverson.  Elaine left her old hometown in Texas years ago, but her daughter Kate asked her to come back after moving there with her husband and daughter.  Elaine’s grandchild, Madison, has been having some difficulty adjusting and Elaine has been trying to get her excited about Halloween.  She need look no further than the local store, where they run into Elaine’s old friend Bobbi Marshall and her granddaughter, Ruby.  Madison and Ruby hit it off right away and they all decide to head over to Bobbi’s house for a bite to eat…and a spooky story about the Tower House and the chest hidden in the attic.  Too bad the story is too enticing for the little girls to simply listen to – they have to see if it’s real.

                In The Halloween Bleed by Norman Prentiss, a young woman named Adeline visits Dr. Bennet Sibley, professor and chair of the English and Classical Literature Department of Graysonville University.  She is allegedly there to write a story on his thoughts regarding Halloween and witchcraft, but in reality, there is something more sinister going on here.  Could it be that enchantments and witchcraft actually exist and is there someone out there keeping a watchful eye on those who use their powers wrongfully?

                Swing by Kevin Quigley is a first-person narrative of Death, so to speak.  This man discovers that he has a special power.  People tend to die around him -  of their own will and by their own hand.  It’s not that he encourages them to do so, but that, once their mind is made up about the event, he doesn’t try to stop them.  Not that he wants to see them dead…he just has no choice in the matter. 

                In Pork Pie Hat by Peter Straub, a young Masters student at Columbia University is enchanted by Hat, a jazz sax player who left high profile bands at the prime of his career and eventually slid into alcoholism and depression.  The student, finding nothing of substance written about Hat, decides to approach the man for an interview.  The story he writes is not only published, but oft quoted long after the jazz musician’s death.  But it’s what isn’t in the article he wrote…the tale that Hat told him about a Halloween he experienced at age eleven…that’s the most intriguing.

                Halloween Carnival: Volume Five is less horror, more dark fiction, but nonetheless as enjoyable as the rest of the series.  I enjoyed Devil’s Night and the fact that I kept silently yelling (at least I think I wasn’t yelling out loud, but there were some interesting glances drawn from others in the room) at the protagonist about not calling the police and entering areas he should stay well clear of.  It reminded me of your classic horror film, where you can’t help but yell, “Don’t go in there!” and groan when the person on-screen doesn’t listen.  The Last Dare was classic Pandora's box with a twist – instead of letting something out of the box to haunt the world, you are letting something in.  I wasn’t too happy with The Halloween Bleed until the twist at the end – that made me smile.

Swing was an interesting and unusual tale that had my complete interest.  This was a tale like nothing I had read before and I loved it.  Pork Pie Hat was a bit hard to figure out at first – was this a tale about a jazz artist’s slide into oblivion, a young man’s obsession with a musician that was seemingly unreachable or a glimpse into a dark and troubled past that helped mold who the jazz musician would eventually become.  I enjoyed the mystery of it all and the darkness of the tale, but felt it was a bit lengthy in getting to the point.

So here we are at the end of the Halloween Carnival anthology series and I have to say I enjoyed every single volume.  What a great way to get ready for Halloween with dark tales all set on or around Halloween!  Definitely worth the read!


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