Welcome To the Show is a shared world anthology. They don't always work, but this one's premise is simple enough and every one of the seventeen stories in the collection is true to the theme.
There's a well-known club in San Francisco where nearly everyone who's anyone has played at one time or another. The place is called The Shantyman. The thing is, despite its legendary status, the place has experienced its fair share of tragedy and there are tales to be told.
I wondered about the origin of the club's name, having never heard of a Shantyman before. If you're at a loss, too, take a moment to Google the term. Once you know it, the name makes perfect sense.
The table of contents is a veritable who's who of my favorite horror writers and a few I enjoyed reading for the first time.
What Sort of Rube by Alan M Clark - Alan does a wonderful job of setting the stage for the anthology. It's the story of a man named Beverly who performs at the Shantyman and also sells stories to magazines. He meets a beggar in the alley outside the club and asks for a story in exchange for a meal. This is that story.
Night and Day and in Between by Jonathan Janz - George Raft, but not that George Raft shows up at the club, looking for Clara, the current headliner. But as we'll learn she's so much more than a singer. This one has a delightful twist in keeping with what we know of the curse.
In the Winter of No Love by John Skipp - A great opening line from John...
"The street was a neon nightmare, a low-rent Disneyland of sleaze down which Marcie tromped in army boots. It was cold— at least for California, with the chill November wind blowing in off the ocean— and in her ankle-length coat of ratty fur, she felt like the least-naked woman on the strip."
Being old enough to remember the late sixties, Skipp took me all the way back with a very enjoyable tale.
Wolf with Diamond Eyes by Patrick Lacey - Vincenzo Lucille is living a nightmare. Now seventy-two, he's the only member of an Italian prog rock band to survive a fateful performance at The Shantyman and he's finally ready to tell his story.
Pilgrimage by Bryan Smith - A tour bus, a stop at The Shantyman, a stranger with a special blend of weed...it all leads to a very strange trip, indeed. One of my favorites in a book of terrific tales.
A Tongue like Fire by Rachel Autumn Deering - Words have meaning...and consequences.
Master of Beyond by Glenn Rolfe - Bringing a Ouiji board to a place like The Shantyman. Not exactly a good idea.
Dark Stage by Matt Hayward - As evidenced in Matt's story, The Shantyman isn't always dark. Sometimes a bit of light shines down, but occasionally even in light, there is darkness.
Open Mic Night by Kelli Owen - Loved this story. Kelli presents her take on the "27 Club" and its link to The Shantyman.
Beat on the Past by Matt Serafini - A punk band, an old photograph, and the usual strangeness of The Shantyman.
True Starmen by Max Booth III - If you're not reading Max Booth, your missing out. His description of hipsters is priceless...
"Thick neckbeards coated in Dorito dust. Semen-stained fedoras. Sarcastic T-shirts too small for the massive guts bulging out of them."
BTW, I'm officially old. I thought for certain shoegazing had to be a made up thing. But once again, thanks to Google, I learned something new.
Just to be Seen by Somer Canon - One of the stranger tales in a collection of strange stories.
Parody by Jeff Strand - It's time for Zany Chester. A wickedly funny tale that could only be told by Jeff Strand.
Ascending by Robert Ford -I've been a big fan of Bob's work for some time now. His style, the way he puts his words together. I just love it. At first, I thought this was going to be a touching love story, but then I recalled this was The Shantyman and Bob did not disappoint.
The Southern Thing by Adam Cesare - Its been sometime since I've read an Adam Cesare story. My fault, not his. This is a good one. A quick story, which packs quite a punch.
Running Free by Brian Keene - Best story in the anthology. Brian hits it out of the park. Wonderfully told. Complete in every way.
We Sang in Darkness by Mary SanGiovanni - And we end, appropriately enough, with a bit of Cosmic Horror from the wonderful Mary SanGiovanni.
In conclusion, let me say how much I love a good shared world anthology. This isn't that, nope. It's a GREAT shared world anthology. Without a doubt, Welcome to the Show is my favorite antho so far in 2018.
Welcome to the Show: 17 Horror Stories - One Legendary Venue from Crystal Lake Publishing is available now in both paperback an for the Kindle. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge. Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.