“Carter Beats the Devil” by Glen David Gold

Oh, I loved re-reading Carter Beats the Devil, the next selection for Twin Cities’ book club Books and Bars. And I’m glad I liked it, since I was one of the people who recommended the book. What if I’d misremembered, or been in a weird mood, or hadn’t noticed that it wasn’t that good? I’m glad to say, none of these are true. Gold’s tale of vaudeville magic was as thumping a read the second time as it was the first.

The Overture with which it opens introduce Charles Carter, a stage magician in 1923, and a famous show which President Warren G. Harding attended. Amazing things happen, then the book recedes to Carter’s childhood:

“I’ll need an assistant sometimes.”

Their eyes met, and James’s watered. He looked away.

“It’s all right,” Charles added. “I can do it alone.”

James slipped into the tub, under the water, and then resurfaced. Later, Charles, too, would get into the tub, but for now he stood alone and held the rock in his hand, because it had already started for him: his hands felt naked without something in them–a card, a coin, a rope–and whenever they held something secretly, they felt educated. (66)

This book is enthralling historical fiction, with great characters from the golden age of magic including Houdini, suspense, mystery, tragedy and romance. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay it is to say that Gold blends history and fiction so entertainingly that I am utterly uninterested in researching what was “real” in the story. The show is so good that I don’t care to know how the tricks were done.

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