|Aug 5 2021
Dammit! First he goes after the sword swallower and now that contortionist. What do these women have that I don’t?
Years ago we wrote a two sentence blurb about Val Munroe's 1952 novel Carnival of Passion, with its excellent cover art by George Gross, but we never got around to reading it. What can we say? It got lost in the shuffle. But we finally cracked it open and decided to move that old post to today, delete what we wrote before, and share our many impressions. This is a first. We pride ourselves on our thirteen years of new content every day, which is why we initially resisted doing this. We'd already used the cover. But we read it anyway, and we're glad we did. There are many mid-century carnival novels. This one qualifies as ironic, because carnivals separated suckers from their money by any means necessary and rarely delivered as promised, while Carnival of Passion is the opposite—entertainment like this can only be considered a bargain.
The story centers on burlesque dancer Liz Danby—young, tough, beautiful, and carny to the core. When her swindler boyfriend cuts a vengeful townie and leaves her holding the bloody switchblade, she's forced to flee the pursuing sheriff while clad in only a g-string. Stranded in a rainstorm in nowheresville and starting from nothing, she manages to find clothes, a bus east, a Nebraska carnival town, and a new stripping job. Something else that's new is the hulking Swedish boxer Lars who she falls for in a big way. The two of them get together, sparks fly, and they plan to make a future together, but the violence and treachery of carny life presents obstacles, and of course there's that old boyfriend, also on the run, who'll never let Liz go. When he finally reappears it's in the midst of multiple subplots of clashing carny tension, and his presence is the spark that's liable to set the tinder ablaze.
Val Munroe, who was in reality an author named Frank Castle, will never be mistaken for a top talent, but his descriptive abilities are more than adequate to the task of detailing hard knock carny life, with its ballyhoos, hot kooch shows, and brutal cash boxing matches. He explains some terminology, but often doesn't bother, and just plows ahead concerning Clems and clems (upper and lower case), blow-offs, 10-in-1s, tips (not money), and more. But the real value of his writing is in the swiftness and conciseness of his story, and how effectively he portrays his protagonist Liz. You know what else is a real value? We were lucky enough to buy this back when it was cheap. We checked today and some joker is trying to sell it for $105. Talk about carnivals separating suckers from their money. It's a fun book, and it even has a couple of photos inside, but a hundred bucks? No. But if you happen to see it for twenty? Jump at it.