Clown in the Moonlight
by Tom Piccirilli
If by chance you were hoping this book was about a clown, then I hope you're sitting down; I have some bad news. If I can offer some measure of consolation, it comes in the form of Tom Piccirilli's impeccable writing. Clown in the Moonlight tells the story of a deeply troubled young man who becomes embroiled in the inner circle of Ricky Kasso. Who is Ricky Kasso, you ask? Oh boy.
The narrator of the tale, who never reveals his name, recounts his introduction into the world of the Acid King by way of a masochistic vixen named Linda. She leads him back into the Aztakea Woods to get a look at a dead body. The body is that of an unfortunate young man murdered by Ricky Kasso, and since that night classmates have been getting the fifty cent tour to see the rotting and mutilated corpse. The narrator and Linda feel a bit like Sid and Nancy on a first date. He's young and simmering with anger and violence, while Linda is an almost manic sex kitten with a mean streak a mile long. Together, they leave the corpse to join a party where they are supposed to meet up with Mr. Acid King himself. On one hand, it feels like a portentous event in the making, but the narrator already seems to know that the man isn't going to measure up to the myth.
Now, prior to reading this novella, I had no clue that it was based on (or at least inspired by) a real event. By the midway point, however, I started to get that sense there was something rooted in our world, which really amped up the unsettling feeling this book provokes. Tom Piccirilli's ability to squeeze tension and emotion for all its worth is on full display with this relatively brief story (I think it clocks it at a little more than a hundred pages). Linda feels like a mix between a siren and a broken wing. At points it feels like she is leading a poor sap on a road to ruin, but as the story progresses, the narrator reveals he has as much or more rage roiling under his skin than the most sadistic of those he meets.
The story doesn't stick to the one moment in time, actually moving forward several years later in the book, which took me much by surprise. The undercurrent remained, but the progression of the narrator's life takes such a divergent turn that I almost wondered if I was reading from the same character's perspective.
The book as a whole may feel a bit disjointed, not just with shifting ahead in time, but with the very mindset of the narrator, but it's such an engaging read that it all whips by at a furious pace. When Tom settles in with a particular scene, like the party the narrator and Linda go to, everything is fleshed out with such excruciating detail that you are instantly there and irreparably involved with the characters and all their frailty. It's grim and bordering on nihilistic, so I don't think it's going to be the kind of book to attract more casual readers--especially if they have their hopes up for a clown in the story.