Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

 

Mystery

CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL Carter Beats the DevilGlen David Gold; Hyperion 2002WorldCat

In August, 1923 President Warren Harding died in San Francisco. Earlier that evening he had attended a magic show presented by Carter the Great. He participated in the show, being eaten by a lion and returning to life. The President was worrying about a great secret that he wanted to share with Carter. Although there is no obvious connection, Secret Service Agent Jack Griffin believes Carter murdered Harding. Charles Carter denies it. Griffin starts investigating Carter’s past.

Carter and his brother grew up in San Francisco. Carter learned about magic when he was around nine years old. He was cheated by a giant at the carnival. He learned magic to learn how to prevent that happening again. When he was older his parents wanted him to go to college and join the family business. Instead, he took off and joined vaudeville presenting his illusions. He grew better and better. He became a headliner through trickery – making an enemy in the process.

He had some wonderful years, then his life changed. When the book opens, Carter is a depressed, unhappy man. He doesn’t realize he is close to broke. Being an illusionist is his life. He is a trickster as well. He beats the Devil in one of his illusions. Or does he do it in life? Did he murder President Harding?

Carter Beats the Devil is an interesting novel – and no, the word “interesting” is not the kiss of death. I was pulled in at the beginning, but towards the middle the novel slowed down. By the last third I was completely hooked again. Then it stayed with me. Like a good magic trick or illusion, the book leaves open questions that only get answered (if you’re lucky) later. The next day after I finished it I was thinking about one of the ending scenes. Suddenly I felt one of those “duh!” moments – so that’s what that meant. Carter Beats the Devil works just like a good illusion.

Glen David Gold has a rich background to this book. He describes San Francisco evolving from the Victorian era of the late 1800’s to the beginnings of the modern era in the 1920’s and 30’s. We have real people mixed into a rich novel. We have the great illusions of the times and the behind the scenes actions of illusions – without really giving away much to the reader who doesn’t know how they are done. If, like me, you get bogged down a few times, keep reading. Like any good illusion, this novel pulls it all together and a few rabbits out of its hat.

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