Carnival of Shadows by R.J Ellory

Orion (hardback), 2014         

448 Pages


Kansas, 1959. A travelling carnival appears overnight in the small town of Seneca Falls, intriguing the townsfolk with acts of inexplicable magic and illusion. But when a man’s body is discovered beneath the carousel, with no clue as to his identity, FBI Special Agent Michal Travis is sent to investigate. Led by the elusive Edgar Doyle, the carnival folk range from the enigmatic to the bizarre, but none of them will give Travis a straight answer to his questions.

With each new turn of the investigation, Doyle and his companions challenge Travis’s once unshakeable faith in solid facts and hard evidence. As the consequences of what has happened become ever more disturbing, Travis struggles to open his mind to a truth that defies comprehension. Will he be able to convince himself that things are not what they seem? Or will he finally reconcile himself to a new reality – one that threatens to undermine everything in which he has ever placed his trust?

In his powerful, atmospheric new thriller, bestselling author R.J. Ellory introduces the weird and wonderful world of the Carnival Diablo and reveals the dark secrets that lurk at its heart. 


‘This is an unusual case, Agent Travis, and we don’t quite know what we’re dealing with to be honest’.

FBI Supervisory Special Agent Tom Bishop stood just inside the doorway of his office. He leaned against the frame, an unlit cigarette in one hand, a plain manila folder in the other.


I thought Carnival of Shadows was really slow to get started. I was bored for the first fifty or so pages. Ellory finds his stride in the end and Carnival of Shadows picks up the pace and turns out to be a pretty decent crime novel. I really liked the elements of magic in Carnival of Shadows and thought the Carnival people were well written, interesting characters. Ellory uses a story-within-a-story method to explore Agent Travis’s past from the murder of his father at the hands of his beaten and abused mother right up until he ends up in the FBI. I found some of this interesting but a lot was unnecessary and felt like a page filler. The reason for these time shifts is supposed to be memories triggered during Agent Travis’s psychiatric evaluation to determine if he was suitable to take on the case of a man found murdered beneath the carousel at the carnival. Carnival of Shadows is a conspiracy theory story and Ellory wants us to believe the FBI ran at that time by J Edgar Hoover were up to some dodgy stuff. I’ve never actually read a conspiracy theory story so found this interesting but largely over the top. I would have found Carnival of Shadows more realistic if the man, a gang member had simply been bumped off by one of the carnival people. Carnival of Shadows was a bit of a mixed bag. I liked some elements but some stuff just didn’t work for me.




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