Debut historical, based on the real life of magician Charles Carter, that manages to get several balls in the air at once, only to let them drop along the way.
According to Gold’s account, President Warren Harding’s death in 1923 came only hours after he attended, and participated in, one of Carter’s performances. Indeed, the depressed Harding and the mysterious Carter even had an opportunity for a chat, in which, supposedly, Harding confided to Carter that he knew a terrible secret. Should he let the country in on it? From here, Gold backtracks to Carter’s early life in upper-middle-class, turn-of-the-century San Francisco, a period and place he lovingly re-creates. After Carter turns his back on Yale and hits the vaudeville trail, eager to learn his craft, we follow him through the defeats of rival magicians, a meeting with Houdini, the early development of television, and on to his arrival at the pinnacle of the profession. Woven throughout is his suspicious involvement in Harding’s death, which he can never shake, along with a rather odd federal agent, who dogs him every step of the way. It’s very clear that the author himself is enchanted by the history of magic. He often historical data to set a scene to wonderful effect, describing in detail, for example, the strange and elaborate mechanisms magicians used to make bodies disappear and devils fly. But too often Gold lets his research become his tale when it should simply inform it; storytelling and character development grind to a halt under the weight of all that imparted knowledge. Moreover, as the story progresses, it shifts too rapidly from one character to another, one scene to another, one period to another, effectively cooling down any tension the lengthy narrative may have built up.
A wildly ambitious performance from a first-novelist who has all the tricks in his bag—but just doesn’t know how to use them yet.