WELCOME TO THE SHOW
compiled by Matt Hayward
editor: Doug Murano
Crystal Lake Publishing
August 3, 2018
reviewed by Brian James Lewis
Welcome to the SHANTYMAN! The shape shifting palace of dreams and conductor of nightmares. While its location remains more or less the same, the experiences it provides to its patrons are vastly different. Maybe it’s because of the closeness to the sea or just being in San Francisco, California? Perhaps. But in the words of onetime manager, Mr. Summers: “Here at the Shantyman we can be whatever we like.” And he is right, as you will see for yourselves dear readers. In this horrifyingly wonderful collection from Crystal Lake, there are seventeen tales for you to marvel at. Naturally, with such a special topic, great writers are required. Brian Keene, Jonathan Janz, Adam Cesare, and Max Booth III spin stories that are tres cool! But enough witty chatter! The Shantyman does not like to be kept waiting…It is the star, after all.
In the late 1800’s, San Francisco was a town based on its main industries: Fishing, shipping, and the toughs that worked the docks. People who don’t waste any opportunity that is presented to them. Whether it be slashing a man’s throat for the coins in his purse, or providing entertainment in a variety of ways. Alan M. Clark’s banjo playing protagonist wants to know What Sort of Rube the motley collection at a nearby pub think he is. Why, he’s just secured a two-week engagement at the Shantyman! Not just anyone can walk in there and pull off such a feat. In fact, he feels so good about it that he offers to buy a crippled old man some lunch and a brew. He is horrified by the tale that the old sea dog tells him in exchange for the grub. But the warning? Now that’s going over the top! Or is it?
As the years roll by, the Shantyman continues its existence. In Jonathan Janz’s story Night and Day and In Between the year is 1926. Well, maybe. In this reality bending tale that reminds me much of the Overlook Hotel’s eternal party crowd, nothing is what it seems to be. A tough private detective arrives from the wharves and heads right for the Shantyman. He’s looking for someone and he isn’t taking no for an answer. Not from the gorilla watching the door, or the creepy manager who calls himself Summers. The bastard even has the audacity to laugh when the detective gives his name as George Raft. The club is full of wealthy aristocrats and socialites there to see the talent sing and play piano. Flappers and bathtub gin, everyone is looking for their favorite sin. Raft is in, but will he get who he came for?
Want a little humor with your horror? Then chances are good that you’ll enjoy True Starmen by Max Booth III. We have arrived in the more or less present day and it appears that the Shantyman has hit hard times. Kind of an out of sync, used to be a cool place joint that does whatever it has to in order to get by. Somebody has to take care of all the orange shag carpet and paneling, right? Martin checks out the unique customers arriving for a podcast and wonders WTF? Why would a whole crowd of abstainers choose a drinking establishment as a meeting place? Turns out that he may just be right for once. I hope that you fine people are familiar with Mr. Booth’s brand of horror. If not, be sure and look him up! The perfect balance of fun, odd, and scary. Pass the Doritos and turn on the bug zapper!
Do you ever go to places that the people you work with might be surprised about? If so, then you might identify with the narrator of Adam Cesare’s The Southern Thing. Even though he’s a lifelong fan of Southern rock band, The Truckers, this guy is an IT pro. Tonight he arrives at a place called the Shantyman all excited to hear them play. But it doesn’t take long for his neurosis to kick in, making him feel like the only clothed person on a nude beach. UN-comfortable! Fortunately, he meets up with a cool dude from Alabama named Chuck and starts to chill. But the Shantyman has other ideas in mind. “Hi! I’m Chuck. What’s with all the screaming?”
Even though the majority of the tales in this book are based in San Francisco, it turns out that the powers of the Shantyman stretch all the way to the opposite coast. In Wolf with Diamond Eyes by Patrick Lacey, a New York City journalist is about to capture the most amazing story of their career. Yes, they’re going to get the skinny from the last living member of the Italian rock band Harpie. Their show at the Shantyman was also the end of the band and a great number of the audience due to a horrible event. But instead of a step by step walk-thru, the journalist leaves with something a lot more abstract and dangerous. Great story that makes excellent use of details to really shock!
Another great story is Pilgrimage by Bryan Smith. This fine piece of writing and historical articulation is gonna kick you where it hurts! But in a good way. Three young adults are on one of those tourist bus tours that are so popular, when they stop at the Shantyman. Karla, a retro rocker seductress decides to drag boyfriend George and pal Jason out for an extended stop at the historic location. They want to soak up all those rock and roll juices! As the trio is joined by a stoner goofball for their walkabout, something goes horribly awry. Maybe the tour guide was right about staying on the bus? The beginning hints at the end, but you won’t see it coming! Go ahead and scream all you want. Nobody is going to save you.
Well friendly readers, I don’t want to reveal too much more of what’s behind the curtain for you to explore. That would just be wrong and the Shantyman does not suffer fools lightly. I’ve spoken with the voices in my head and we’ve decided that Welcome to the Show rates a fantastic FIVE STARS! Actually, I’d venture to say it rates even higher than that. Once you get started reading this highly addictive collection of stories, you won’t be able to stop. Running Free by Brian Keene is so amazing that I left it for you to explore yourselves! Trust me, Welcome to the Show is something you want to be reading NOW.