A female illusionist is questioned about a murder in Macallister’s debut, set at the turn of the 20th century.
Janesville, Iowa, police officer Virgil Holt worries that an injury could mean the end of his law enforcement career, but a stroke of luck offers hope. A man identified as the husband of The Amazing Arden, aka Ada Bates, has been hacked up like a ham at Christmas, and Ada, the logical suspect, has just landed in Holt’s custody. Eager for information that might bolster his chances of continuing his career, Holt handcuffs his prisoner to a chair at the station and encourages her to talk. And Ada obliges and obliges and obliges—throughout the course of one very long, dull night. Launching into an autobiographical dissertation, Ada protests her innocence and describes how she was once tortured by her stepfather’s sadistic nephew, which led to her remarkable discovery of her body’s ability to heal itself quickly. Fearing for her safety, she gathered the courage to run away. During a journey that culminated with a job in a touring magic show, Ada made her way to New York City with a young man who won her heart. Unfortunately, his actions proved questionable, so she left him, at least for a time. Ada soon learned the subtleties of her art and, adding more ambitious acts to her repertoire, took over the show. But the past eventually caught up with her in a smoky theater in Chicago, and Ada faced a tough decision. Holt also tells his story—albeit with more brevity—during Ada’s infrequent pauses for breath and finally gets around to making a desperate offer before the unsurprising resolution. Macallister makes a concerted effort to ensure historical accuracy, but her prose is labored and lacks intensity.
Nevertheless, devotees of illusion may enjoy the story based on the author’s detailed focus on early costumes, movement and techniques.