A Prohibition Era gambler tries to pay off his debts by tracking down money in an unlikely setting—the off-season outpost of a traveling carnival.
Wimberley (King of Colored Town, 2007, etc.) returns to mysteries with hero Jack Romaine, a handsome Cincinnati widower with an addiction to risky behavior who has found himself deeply in debt to gangster Oliver Bladehorn. Bladehorn promises to forgive the debts if Jack can uncover his stolen fortune, but he raises the stakes by threatening the safety of Jack’s mother-in-law and young son. The situation is further complicated by a deranged thug named Arno Becker who is also after the money. A hot lead sends Jack by train to Northern Florida (familiar territory for Wimberley) to look for a man named Alex Goodman who was supposedly living at Kaleidoscope, an off-season camp of carnies run by the beautiful, blue-skinned Luna Chevreaux. Jack learns quickly that Alex is dead, but something is still off about the camp—and particularly about Princess Peewee, a 600-pound woman who was said to be Alex’s lover, and who is immediately suspicious of Jack’s presence. Others warm to him, particularly Luna and a pair of married dwarves, and though he initially stands out in a world literally made up of circus freaks, by the time Becker picks up his trail, Jack realizes that he has essentially found a new family at Kaleidoscope. Time is running out, so Jack risks his budding relationship with Luna to dig further into the camp’s secrets to get answers about the missing fortune. While the final twist isn’t obvious, it also is not nearly as remarkable as the genuine warmth the author uses to conjure an alienated but loving community of outcasts.
Suspense is secondary here, but the story still works.