"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." (Francis Bacon)

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Carter Beats the Devil

TITLE:  Carter Beats the Devil
AUTHOR: Glen David Gold

This is a wonderful blending of fact and fiction, focusing on Charles Carter, a magician in the early part of the 20th Century. The inspiration for Gold's story, aka the jumping off point, is the somewhat suspicious death of President Warren G. Harding. From that moment of historical significance, Gold weaves an amazing tale full of wonder, as well as perseverance, grief, and hope. It also makes clear that a magic trick is not the same as an illusion, while continually reminding the reader of the importance of misdirection. 

Because Harding, in the book, attended Carter's show shortly before he died, participating in the mysterious final act of illusion, a determined Secret Service agent becomes convinced Carter is somehow involved in the president's death, a plot thread that gives the story most of its tension. A digression to Carter's childhood and early career, leading up to Harding's death and beyond, gives the story its soul. Carter quickly became one of my favorite characters, someone I couldn't help but root for, with his almost childlike sense of joy and confidence that things will work out. 

 I'd barely read the first hundred pages before turning to the "Program Notes" at the back, then Googling new characters as they appeared so I could know which characters were based on actual people. And as a Marx Brothers fan, I got a thrill when, during the time Carter worked on a vaudeville circuit, a comedy act titled "Fun in Hi Skule" and therefore, knew the Marx Brothers would show up. In fact, Julius (Groucho) does show up with a small speaking role. And that's all I'll say about the many delights found in this book. 

Writing about magic and illusions can't be easy, but Gold pulled it off spectacularly, grounding the story in believable characters, the ones based on reality and the ones created to fill out the story.  This book is one of the most entertaining books I've ever read.

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