Glen David Gold,
Carter Beats the Devil
(Hyperion, 2001)

Glen David Gold's debut novel Carter Beats the Devil blends history, mystery and illusion with deft literary sleight-of-hand.

Charles Carter, a magician known as "Carter the Great," has a special guest at his final performance at San Francisco's Curran Theatre: President Warren Gamelial Harding, who is on a cross-country "Voyage of Understanding." Harding's voyage is about the be cut short, however, for just a few hours after his participation in "Carter Beats the Devil," the last part of the show, Harding is dead.

Carter is left holding a revolutionary secret passed on by Harding, and he soon finds himself pursued by the representatives of a variety of interests, including the Secret Service. Convinced that Carter killed Harding, one agent in particular, Jack Griffin, makes Carter his special project. Carter manages to stay one step ahead of them, but finally it seems that his luck might be running out. It's time to try to beat the devil one last time.

The novel takes a leisurely tour through Carter's childhood, tracking his interest in magic and following him on his early vaudeville circuits. It is on one of these that he earns the enmity of Mysterioso, the headlining magician, whose lust for revenge will carry on through the years.

This remarkable first novel is by turns tender, suspenseful and thoughtful, at once sprawling and taut. Gold covers a great deal of ground without letting his story get away from him. He blends in historical figures -- including Carter -- with fictional characters, and all of them ring true.

The last chapters of the book are utterly gripping and it's impossible to put it down as the tension mounts and Carter prepares for the performance of his life. Gold has a gift for drawing the reader so deeply into the world he both documents and creates that the twists and turns of the plot are a complete surprise.

Reproductions of posters of actual stage magicians of the period, including Carter the Great, are a particularly fine touch to this offering from a highly promising new writer.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]
Rambles: 19 January 2002

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