Clowns are real, the clown mafia is a real thing and they are both active in Little Bigtop a fictitious neighborhood in the world of Carlton Mellick III. It is a world where comedy has been outlawed by the government, where being a clown is having a radically different DNA, altered through an injection or being born as it and where the strippers’ breast squeak.
In Little Bigtop the Bozo family rules under Don Bozo and his Capos. They mainly deal in prostitution, the drug Laughy-gas and underground comedy clubs. They also deal in an ongoing feud with La Mystère, the French clown mafia, the sideshow freaks; the result of what happens to the ten per cent Happy Juice does not work on and The Carnies of Carnival Island.
To be a Clown is a way of life. Not only do you have a permanent red nose or white skin, but you shoot bubblegum guns, use balloon knives, dress in baggy pants and love ice cream. People who aren’t clowns are called Vanillas and are frowned upon in Little Bigtop, the way clowns are frowned upon in the rest of the world.
Although the reader is never directly informed about how the clowns began appearing, the history behind Little Bigtop or much about the world surrounding ClownFellas hints are dropped here and there, letting us put the pieces together ourselves. For those hoping to read a mafia epic along the lines of The Godfather, albeit with clowns, this is not the book for you. Carlton Mellick III’s mob book is more of Pulp Fiction than Goodfellas.
The book consists of six parts, all centered round one or more characters, each with a different dilemma that must be dealt with. Some of these include a vet caught in the middle of the war between The Bozo Family and La Mystère, a clown called Pinky Smiles trying to propose to his girlfriend while trying to avoid getting whacked and Buggy Buttons who tries to put on the biggest comedy show ever. Though the tales have little to do with each other there are some recurring figures and themes, but not enough to make the book anything more than a collection of short stories that take place in Little Bigtop.
Mellick’s book is wonderfully bizarre with its characters, accessories and details, yet the stories themselves are far from original. They are mostly standard fair; betrayal, mistaken identity, blackmail and racing against the clock only with clowns. Every now and then there are some amusing parts and interesting twists, mostly related to the physiology of the clowns or their quirks and Mellick is talented enough to make the stories engaging. The characters are convincing and one can see Little Bigtop as one reads and hear the typical New York jargon dressed in clown clothing.
In the end ClownFellas is an entertaining read, mostly due to its novelty value and it would be interesting to learn more about the world these clowns inhabit, but it is not a hardboiled Clownfather.
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