A master storyteller weaves a tale of love, pain, and sleight of hand.
Nate Larson has been in federal prison in what the feds admit is a miscarriage of justice. His first two felonies had not even resulted in prison time, but then he attempted insurance fraud to help pay for his dying daughter's cancer treatment—strike three and mandatory 25-to-life. The feds release him to take custody of his granddaughter, who, as an orphan, has gone into foster care. The hitch is that he must testify against his brother, Dima, who is suspected of child sex trafficking. The Russian Mafia has taken over Dima's grocery store and used it as a pipeline for Eastern European girls, and Dima cooperates out of fear. If Nate doesn’t testify, he goes right back to prison. Fourteen-year-old Grace Larson is stuck in “foster care hell” in Massachusetts, being shunted from one “rental parent” to another, some of whom sexually abuse her. So when a court order sends her to live with Nate, whom she doesn’t know, she is deeply suspicious. Nate shows her magic tricks he’s perfected during his confinement, leaving her slack-jawed with wonder. With one trick using Russian matryoshka dolls comes wonderful patter about a girl in a heaven-on-earth Ukrainian village called Kortelisy in 1942. Of course that’s a lie, as Ukrainians were being murdered by the millions at the time. Grace learns the tricks and becomes his talented apprentice as the feds allow him to take her on a summer tour in New England to perform magic shows. Nate plans eventually to skip to Canada—without Grace—rather than betray Dima, who is old and dying. But Nate discovers he loves her, which she finally realizes, too. So whom to betray, his brother or granddaughter? Nate and Grace are both smart and deeply sympathetic people who have felt great pain in their lives. Nate wants to bring down the real sex trafficker, who’d like nothing better than to murder Nate and pimp out Grace. The plotting is clever and the details are touching: Nate and Grace might be related to Harry Houdini, and Grace might carry the “bent BRCA gene” that killed her mother and grandmother. Dima and Nate were the only survivors when the Nazis wiped out Kortelisy. The story twists, turns, and—presto! A brilliant solution.
Readers will be rooting for Nate and Grace in this clever and richly enjoyable novel.