Time-traveling carnies, malevolent spirits, and a triple homicide rock a small Midwestern town in the first volume of Ernst and Sigafus’ (Native Elders: Sharing Their Wisdom, 2014) Mida series.
Nobody in Farmingdale, Iowa, knows who booked the carnival, but one foggy October night in 1952, its tents and rides just appear. The carnies are strangers to everyone, except for beloved townsperson Nola. Years ago, her late son, John, founded the carnival as “a refuge for those who were a little different.” Eight of the carnies, known as “the gifted,” possess mystical powers—such as telekinesis and the ability to communicate with the souls of animals—which are at their strongest when the group works together. After John’s mysterious murder, his wife, Mesa, took charge of the carnival and left Nola to raise their son, Tony. He grew up believing that Mesa was dead. Now a short-tempered young man, he spends his days drinking and fighting with his girlfriend, Joanie; when she also winds up dead, alongside another local and his dog, Sheriff Sam Johnston considers Tony the main suspect in the crime. Mesa, striving to make up for lost time with her son, rallies her carnies to join forces and clear his name. However, it isn’t the only issue the carnies must face: there’s also the evil spirit Jiibay, who’s enlisted one of the carnival’s members in a bid to control the group’s powers for his own wicked ends. There are also matters of the heart; the sheriff can’t resist Mesa’s gardenia scent, and 7-foot-tall Stretch pines for “Cajun Wiccan” dancer Carlotta, known among her friends as “one tough cookie.” (That doesn’t deter Stretch, though, who says that “[s]ome cookies have soft centers”.) Even with so many narrative elements at play, including copious supporting characters, Ernst and Sigafus’ clean prose makes the story easy to follow. By the novel’s end, the murder mystery storyline eventually arrives at an underwhelming conclusion, while the Jiibay plotline reaches an outlandish one. That said, the book’s true engine—the relationships among the carnies—remains affecting all the way through. This is particularly true regarding the interplay between Mesa and Connor, a fortuneteller who never leaves her side.
An engaging, complex introduction to a charming supernatural series.