The Axelrods take readers to World War I–era New York City for a tale of magic, mystery and crime.
Orphan Leo lives in Hell’s Kitchen, getting by with his small gang by picking pockets, a skill he learned from reading Harry Houdini’s The Right Way to Do Wrong: An Exposé of Successful Criminals. When the gang’s leader kicks him out, Leo doesn’t want to return to a life of crime. He finds an ad for a magician’s assistant in a lifted wallet and follows up, landing a job as assistant to Signor Barzini, an established professional magician and friend of Houdini’s. Leo spends countless hours learning sleight of hand, how to manipulate cards and, finally, how to help Barzini perform his extraordinary new trick: the bullet catch. Leo will palm the real bullet and load a blank, pretend to shoot Barzini, then resurrect him on stage. Things go wrong when, just as they begin their performances, a famous magician dies as a result of a similar trick, attracting a police detective to investigate Barzini. The mother-and-son writing team brings the setting to life, including such luminaries of the time as Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as minor characters for verisimilitude. The inside knowledge of magic adds an exotic touch.
An absorbing mystery enhanced by its intriguing backdrop. (Historical mystery. 10-14)