Jon Bassoff, the author of Corrosion and The Drive-Thru Crematorium, recently released this dark look at a supposed paradise that is part The Lottery, part Cocaine Nights, and part hard boiled noir. Deputy Sam Hardy (gotta love that name) becomes a suspect in the murder of a prostitute. Since no-nonsense Sheriff McCabe is running for reelection, Hardy finds himself exiled to the town of Angels and Hope, the home of the once magnificent amusement park, Captain Clive’s Dreamworld.
On the surface, Angels and Hope appears to be right out of the 1950’s television mythology of what American towns looked like. The houses are all pristine with well-manicured lawns, proper decorations, and house lights that seem to stay on all night. Hardy finds himself a Deputy with nothing to do – until he discovers that teenage girls keep disappearing.
Not just physically. When these girls disappear, the entire town forgets them and denies that they ever existed. Obviously, there is a darkness that reigns supreme in this town and Hardy finds himself drawn deeper into the madness that lies behind the façade of the smiling faces and neighborly visits. It takes all the courage he can muster to try to pry the secrets out of the town while guarding his own.
Captain Clive’s Dreamworld is a fast read. Bassoff writes in such a way that even when you anticipate the story zigging one way, he zags and takes you down another dark path. I found more than a few surprises as Hardy peels the layers off his eyes and gets deeper and deeper into the ways of the town.
Bassoff’s secondary characters are fleshed out enough to let them take their moments in the spotlight but leave enough to the imagination to wonder what goes on when they are offstage. The three “ladies” with their feather boas who spend all day in the diner yet seem to know everything about everybody in the town. The two sons of Captain Clive who are running the town on behalf of their father – why do they bring in different international businessmen, and what is in the burlap bag that one always carries with him?
Using an amusement park as a backdrop is a solid choice. It’s a family friendly operation that was Captain Clive’s dream – a world of such upbeat schmaltz that it makes Walt Disney and his parks look like a cheap piker. Yet, there are very few customers. Hardy wonders how it can stay in business, and how the town can continue to function with the park as the main source of income.
Captain Clive’s Dreamworld is a book about choices – and when a character seems to have no choice, how does he or she face their destiny? Hardy has no choice when it comes to coming to town. He does have a choice as to how far he will go to uncover what is happening to the disappearing girls, but choices come with consequences. Will it be worth it to him to choose to follow his instincts?
The darkness that surrounds this paradise driven town permeates Hardy’s soul. He is forced to confront his darkest secrets if he is going to be able to make peace with his destiny.
Dreamworld is a fast-paced run through the land of The Stepford Wives and Leave It to Beaver. The humor is dark, and the action disturbing at times – but it just goes to show that the veneer of beauty is often built on something very ugly. This is a good addition to Bassoff’s titles and may even bring in people who are not familiar with his earlier work.
As Captain Clive himself might say, “Buy the book, it’s worth the look.”
John Porter is a writer of horror, dark fantasy, and is a former stand-up comedian. He also writes about blues music and plays records at VPM.org/timefortheblues. He has written extensively about surrealist theatre and Mexican Exploitation Films. His website is under construction because he is too lazy to finish it.