Nightmare Alley by William Lindsay Gresham, introduction by Nick Tosches / 304-page paperback from New York Review Books Classics / ISBN 9781590173480
"While I’ve known for a long time that Nightmare Alley was an established classic of noir fiction, I was utterly unprepared for its raw, Dostoevskian power. . . . It’s more than just a steamy noir classic. As a portrait of the human condition, Nightmare Alley is a creepy, all-too-harrowing masterpiece."--Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
One of the twentieth century's most darkly beautiful works of crime fiction—a story of carny life, spiritualism, and a con man of merciless resolve.
Nightmare Alley begins with an extraordinary description of a carnival-show geek—alcoholic and abject and the object of the voyeuristic crowd’s gleeful disgust and derision—going about his work at a county fair. Young Stan Carlisle is working as a carny, and he wonders how a man could fall so low. There’s no way in hell, he vows, that anything like that will ever happen to him.
And since Stan is clever and ambitious and not without a useful streak of ruthlessness, soon enough he’s going places. Onstage he plays the mentalist with a cute assistant (before long his harried wife), then he graduates to full-blown spiritualist, catering to the needs of the rich and gullible in their well-upholstered homes. It looks like the world is Stan’s for the taking. At least for now.