A couple of years ago I was a member of a horror board where Bryan Smith occasionally posted. That was good enough for me to seek out some of his work and I soon became a fan of the man's nasty, ultra-violent writing in which beautiful people were often perpetrators and victims of heinous crimes and unspeakable tortures. I had a brief exchange with Smith in which I asked him about his novel Depraved, at the conclusion of which someone else weighed in with a query about The Freakshow. Smith's response was surprisingly candid as he remarked (and I'm paraphrasing here) he wrote this one at a particularly dark time in his life and did not want to think too much more about it.
Wait. A book the author is too disturbed to talk about unless he has to? Yep, this one shot straight to the top of my "To Read" list.
Picking up after madness has descended on small-town America in the form of a travelling freakshow staffed by hellish monsters from another dimension with the goal of slaughtering everyone and replacing them with assimiliations that will one day seek to take over our world, The Freakshow is a depraved and disgusting piece of fiction ... and one that I found all the more enjoyable for its insistence on pulling no punches.
Where other authors would spend 200 pages detailing characters before subjecting them to the soon-to-be-arriving freakshow, Smith fleshes out his characters while they are pursued, captured, dismembered, raped and murdered by the freaks who cavort about the small town of Pleasant Hills. This makes for an immediately arresting read, so much so that the entire tone of the novel is set within the first ten pages. If these opening pages disturb you overly much, my recommendation would be to discontinue reading and pick up something more cerebral in nature. But if you dig the early taste you get, then strap yourself in, because Smith wreaks carnage as he slowly lays out the agenda of the freaks, and details a small rebellion brewing within their ranks. Meanwhile, main character Heather dumps her sadistic boyfriend and then has to survive within Pleasant Hills as she tries to rescue her disabled mother ...
The horror is full on; the gore graphic. Yet the tone somehow flirts with being so pulpy it's hard to take any of it overly seriously. I read this one like I read creature features - that is, so far outside the bounds of possibility that nothing really offended. Be aware however, there are some extremely troubling themes in this one (including rape and necrophilia), so my capacity in this instance to switch off my moral barometer may not to extend to all.
Which is to say that though is may not be for everyone, Smith's The Freakshow is a nasty, perverse trip into the sordid mind of a talented pulp writer, and earns this reviewer's recommendation.
4 Deflated Clown Monsters for The Freakshow.