Title: Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival – A Long Short Story
Author: Berthold Gambrel
Publication Date: October 18, 2019
Genres: Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Holiday, Humour
Length: 54 pages
Source: I received a free copy from the author.
Rating: 5 Stars
Federal Agent Jane Raczyck is tired of her job. So is Sheriff Sixtus Davis, the head law enforcement officer in the town of Turpin’s Gulch. But when Raczyck’s agency sends her to work with Davis on combating the drug epidemic in the small Appalachian hamlet, the two are compelled to investigate the local carnival and its mysterious impresario… even though they’d much rather be doing other things together.
Content Warning: References to drug abuse, multi-generational poverty, and some of the negative consequences of living in an insular community like prejudice against and a deep distrust of outsiders. I won’t discuss these subjects in my review, and they were a minor part of an otherwise pretty lighthearted plot.
Small towns are supposed to be sleepy, peaceful little places where nothing weird ever happens….right?
The main characters were a hoot. Neither of them seemed all that emotionally invested in carrying out the roles in society that they were supposed to be fulfilling. Even when Jane behaved like a federal agent and Davis took his job as head law enforcement officer in Turpin’s Gulch seriously, there was still always an faint undercurrent of restlessness and snark in their personalities that always made me wonder how they’d break the unwritten rules of how they were supposed to act next based on their occupations and gender identities. This was exactly what the setting needed in order to thrive, and it made me wish I’d ignored my overflowing to be read list and jumped ahead to this tale when it first came out.
I loved seeing how the narrator broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the audience when necessary. For example, this was how Jane was described: “Now, because standards of beauty vary greatly, let me simply say that she had whatever you consider to be the most attractive hair color and style, atop whatever you think is the ideal face shape, with skin colored in the precise shade of pigment you like the best,” and it made me laugh out loud when I read it. Of course the audience’s preconceptions and tastes matter when describing a beautiful woman, and it tickled my funny bone to see that addressed so openly. Do keep an eye out for other unexpected moments like this while reading because i can’t possibly list them all in this review.
The paranormal elements of the plot were beautifully understated. Many of these scenes that included them could be explained away with rational alternatives to what some characters assumed was happening there. I love ambigious stuff like that, especially when it’s followed up with scenes that gently nudge the reader in the particular direction the author wants you go while still leaving room for other interpretations for those who wish to hang onto their own ideas about the origins of previous spooky moments. Yes, I’m being vague in this paragraph on purpose. If you want to know more, you’ll have to read this book!
While no prior knowledge of Appalachian culture is required to understand the storyline, readers who are from that culture or who have knowledge of it in other ways will find some gems here. I nodded and chuckled as I read certain passages because of how much they reminded me of certain people I knew when I was a kid or of cultural references that I rarely see mentioned in fiction.
Vespasian Moon’s Fabulous Autumn Carnival was everything I was hoping it would be and more.