Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold

DATE FINISHED: April 5th, 2011

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS: President Harding dies just hours after participating in Carter the Great’s magic show.  Secret services want to know what (if anything) Carter had to do with the death.  The story flashes back to different episodes throughout Carter’s life & career until the mystery reaches its conclusion.

THOUGHTS: As mentioned above,  I found the story to be quite episodic.  Low-key narratives built up to unexpectedly dramatic moments of tension/resolution, so with one or two ‘lulls’ my attention was held throughout.  I felt like it would have read well as a serial of the old, Dickensian type, if books were still released in that format, but as they’re not, I could see the set scenes translating well to film or perhaps a TV series.  The characters were all interesting, but I felt quite distanced from rather than engaged with them all – I guess a little like I was watching a show, rather than participating.  There was a great ‘finale’ scene just before the end, which was more satisfying than the actual conclusion, which I felt allowed a little too much schmaltz to creep in, and also felt like a little bit of a damp squib in terms of the revelations regarding the President Harding mystery.  I enjoyed the fictionalisation of the real-life characters within the story, even if Gold did play a little fast & loose with various verifiable facts; it is a novel rather than a biography, after all.  Overall, this was a good-but-not-amazing read.

FOLLOWING ON: Comparable to ‘The Prestige’ by Christopher Priest in terms of stage magicianship, but no other real crossover points there.  Houdini crops up as a character; apparently he also does in ‘Ragtime’ by E. L. Doctorow which I’ve read but don’t remember, and is set in the same period if you were looking for some further background for the era.


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