Book Review: ClownFellas by Carlton Mellick III

“If Martin Scorsese and Ronald McDonald had a baby, this would be it. A must read whether you are a fan of bizarro or not.”

9780804179355Welcome to Little Bigtop, the notorious clown neighbourhood of New York, where clowns outnumber humans, or vanillas, ten to one. What was once a major tourist attraction is now a sprawling district of violence and gang warfare between rival clown families; it is a place where laughing gas is used instead of cocaine, where foot-soldiers are armed with .38s as well as caramel apples, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll never find yourself in the disreputable Sideshow borough. Welcome to Carlton Mellick III’s new six-story collection, ClownFellas.

In ‘City of Clowns’, Earl Berryman is a veterinarian terrified by clowns, so when one picks him up and drives him to the head of the local clown family’s house to fix his pet lion, Happytooth, the day quickly turns into one of the worst of his life. However, it gets much worse when the leader of a rival clown family, Le Mystère, telephones Earl to make him an offer he can’t refuse. A great way to settle you in for the mad ride ahead, ‘City of Clowns’ has some great set pieces and plenty of twists and turns, including a conclusion you won’t see coming.

More fun is to be had with ‘The Juggler Brothers’ in which Vinnie Blue Nose, the top Capo of the Bozo family, is sent over to the Rainbow Gardens clown brothel to take care of Jimmy Bozo, the Don’s son, who has gone on something of a frenzied rampage. Jimmy Bozo has unfortunately murdered the nephew of a Le Mystère captain, which in turn pisses off the Juggler Brothers, the deadliest soldiers in the French clown family. Again, Mellick’s inventiveness is what it’s all about here, with unicycle chases and deformed mutant clowns aplenty.

In ‘A Sad Day for a Happy Clown’ Pinky Smiles is, as his name suggest, a relatively jovial character. The only thing that would make him happier is the hand of his beloved Taffy in marriage. All that stands between him and Taffy, however, is Taffy’s father, Uncle Jojo. Oh, and the contract that has just been taken out on Pinky’s life due to him being a rat. The story cleverly develops into a Whodunit of comic proportions as Pinky attempts to stay alive long enough to uncover the real rat and marry the love of his life.

The fourth story of the collection, ‘Funny Business’, tells the tale of Buggy Buttons’ attempts to throw a once-in-a-lifetime comedy show after Manny Malone, the fed charged with shutting down the Bozo crime family once and for all, hits the local comedy club. The only problem is, the comedian that got comedy outlawed in the first place (The Comedy Prohibition Act) just isn’t that funny anymore, which is a bit of a nuisance as Buggy has booked him for the show. Extremely funny and well-paced, ‘Funny Business’ is perhaps the best story of the collection.

‘The Unwhackable Bingo Ballbreaker’ tells the story of the titular Bingo Ballbreaker, an unkillable hulk of a clown who wakes to find two cleaners/henchmen about to cart him from his apartment after mistaking him for dead. Not only that, but someone has stolen Melinda, his beautiful violin, and Bingo will stop at nothing to get her back.

In ‘Wedding Day’ Le Mystère are still rather annoyed with Jimmy Bozo for what happened in ‘The Juggler Brothers’, and so plan to whack him at the wedding between Taffy and Pinky Smiles. It’s up to Uncle Jojo to save his daughter’s wedding day. Featuring one of the bloodiest weddings since R.R.Martin sat down and conceived that scene, this is a fitting end to a fantastic collection of intertwining stories.

When reading ClownFellas, it is easy to forget just how absurd the premise is. This isn’t bizarro for the sake of it. These characters are mobsters and Feds who just happen to also be clowns, or vanillas, or Sideshow freaks. Each story is clever, multi-layered, and filled with witty dialogue. But it’s not all zany tomfoolery. ClownFellas, at its core, has a lot of heart, with love a recurring theme, whether between clowns and humans, clowns and clowns, or clowns and violins.

Also clever is the way in which the stories overlap, à la Pulp Fiction. Primary and secondary characters pop up here and there and from story to story, and by the end of the collection you will feel as if you know them all. If Martin Scorsese and Ronald McDonald had a baby, this would be it. A must read whether you are a fan of bizarro or not.

ADAM MILLARD

Publisher: Random House Hydra
Release Date: 14 July 2015

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