Set at the end of the Roaring 1920s in a noir West Coast Florida, this grizzly mystery with literary aspirations follows the adventure of Lost Generation gambler Jack Romaine. When his debts threaten both his credit and his family, Jack becomes the agent of a Cincinnati gangster looking to recover what Jack believes is a stash of stolen cash and railroad bonds. But the gangster has two men on the job, and the second is sadistic killer Arno, who maims or slaughters people in his way.
The trail brings handsome Jack to a Florida off-season “beddy” community of freak show performers called Kaleidoscope. Here he’s the odd one as dwarfs, giants, and legless women treat him with contempt until he can find a way to make himself useful. While he blisters his hands as a workman and his mouth when he tries fire eating, he also searches for the stolen goods. The trail leads him to the lovely blue-toned Luna, boss woman of the community, and the real story, just as the murderous Arno is also closing in.
Although Arno is a psychotic villain out of central casting, Kaleidoscope’s very individual citizens and their flawed hero make up for him. With a richly detailed setting (at times reminiscent of the film “Freaks” in its realism and intensity) and galloping plot, Kaleidoscope should please history/mystery readers with a robust sensibility.