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3 Burnside Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

Carter Beats the Devil


Carter Beats the Devil Cover




Chapter 1
He wasn't always a great magician. Sometimes he said he was the seventh magician in his family, the great-great-great-great-grandson of Celtic sorcerers. Sometimes he claimed years of training at the feet of Oriental wizards. But his press releases never told the truth, that from the moment Charles Carter the Fourth first learned it, magic was not an amusement, but a means of survival.

All magicians had boyhood stories. Kellar, Houdini, Thurston, and many of the best found inspiration during periods of illness and bed rest, when a relative would bring them a magic set to while away their days.

But not Carter. Instead, his first performance took place in a deserted house in the dead of winter, when he was nine years old. At first, the house was full. He grew up in San Francisco, Pacific Heights, specifically Presidio Heights, 3638 Washington Street between Spruce and Locust. This was a three-story Italianate built in 1874 to house the Russian consulate. But after a decade of poor fur-trapping seasons, the Russians could no longer pay the mortgage. Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carter III, newlyweds, moved in.

On the ground floor was the foyer, then the parlor and the drawing room, with chairs and tables from Gump's and window boxes around the fireplace where the ladies sat for tea in winter. The grand piano was in the parlor, and there Charles was forced to sit upright twice a week, pecking note by note through "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and other tunes from Instructive Melodies, the worn cloth songbook his humorless teacher pointed to with bony fingers.

Running from the parlor to the back dining room were forty-five feet of freedom, in the form of a hallway with rugs that always slipped, and when they were being cleaned, Charles tiptoed from room to room, looking for every adult — mother, father, nurse, cook, valet, maids — and if all of them were upstairs, he kicked off his shoes and skidded down the floors in his stocking feet. Then he was the lookout while his brother James had a go. James, younger than Charles and devoted as a duckling, never instigated, and was brilliant at behaving innocently when called upon. They never pushed their luck. Just two or three transits down the floorboards, enough to find exactly the right posture to carry them farthest and fastest — they were racehorses, freight trains, comets — then Charles would crouch in the breakfast nook, retying his shoelaces, and James's, and putting on his sweetest face to ask Cook for a glass of milk.

The house was paid for, as were most houses in Pacific Heights, on the trading of stocks, bonds, and notes. Their father was an investment banker, and better than most in his character and intuition, riding out the occasional panic and run on gold with good humor. Further, Mr. Carter was blessed with a hobby to which he could apply his imagination: he collected. When it was fashionable to collect European artwork, he did so, and when fashions shifted to Japan, the Carter house was home to three — but what three! — scrolls mounted behind glass that showed the cast of Genji Monogatari. Though the Japan mania caused many of the Pacific Heights social set to fill room after room with woodcuts of every single one of the 53 Stages of the Tokaido, Mr. Carter believed that to have three of anything was a collection. Then it was time to move on.

Charles's mother, Lillian, was a complexity: she had grown up in a house of New England Transcendentalists and passionately pursued the riches of interior life. A robust woman who could argue the politics of suffrage for three hours straight, Mrs. Carter also suffered fainting spells, allergies, and the overaccumulation of nervous energy. In one year, she received a neurologist, who said she had a depletion of phosphorous so that her nerve cells conducted electricity improperly; a somatic hygienist, who prescribed bed rest to replenish nutritional energies lost to excessive thinking and feeling; a psychoanalyst, who wanted to explore her girlhood conflicts with her parents; a hypnotist, who put her into trances to relieve her overstimulated emotions; and a spirit medium, who led a séance to rid her of abnormal spirit clusters.

"I have many, many neuroses," she declared at a parlor room tea to which Charles and James had been invited as long as they were quiet.

"I have them, too," said Mrs. Owens, who was competitive.

"But I've been invited to Boston for a study," Mrs. Carter said, which defeated Mrs. Owens and caused many of Mrs. Carter's other friends to ask questions: was she following the theosophists? Or a more traditional field?

Mrs. Carter was in fact to be a patient of Dr. James Jackson Putnam, a psychoanalyst and Harvard professor. "He recommended this book," she explained, displaying with pride her inscribed copy of Psychic Treatment of Nervous Disorders.

"Oh, psychic treatment," Mrs. Owens said. "That was popular...several years ago." Her lip curled with sympathy.

"No, no, this is quite new. Honestly." Mrs. Carter looked to her husband for support.

"It's..." Mr. Carter met his wife's eye and he charted another course. "It can't be dismissed."

Charles, almost nine years old, followed the conversation with an interest that deepened as he realized his mother was considering a trip to Boston. How long would she be away? Could he go with her? He glanced at James, who was just six years old, and who turned the pages of a stiff-backed Famous Men and Famous Deeds, humming quietly to himself. He almost whispered, "James, pay attention," but he didn't want to be dismissed from the room. The topic was abandoned, but Charles listened for the rest of the afternoon for clues: was his mother actually going away?

A few nights later, she sat at the end of his bed and explained that he and his brother wouldn't be left alone: there was his father, and Fräulein Reinhardt, and of course the rest of the servants.

"I need you to have a stiff upper lip," she continued. "James will look to you for guidance. You can't let him down." Charles watched her twist her necklace between her fingers. "He's so young he'll wonder why he can't come with me."

Charles considered, then, a different question to ask her. "When are you coming back?"

"That's a tremendous question, Charles. There are circles within circles. In fact, Dr. Putnam compares the experience to the Divine Comedy. You know." His mother nodded at him, and he nodded back, to show he understood. At bedtime, she had a habit of talking as if they were allies sharing a confidence. "First, you descend into your emotional life with a doctor as your guide, and then the repressed memories are washed away in the Lethe."

When she spoke — she was adept at speaking and annoyed at those who merely talked — his mother drew on many dramatic gestures whose source Charles could hardly guess at, as she shunned the theatre itself. Describing her progress through psychoanalysis, she flamboyantly waved her fingers and winced as if in pain. "You pass the moaning souls in the lake of fire, but you must push on past that despair" — she displayed a faraway gaze of contemplation — "till you come to" — with a sigh of release — "inner resourcefulness."

Charles followed the gestures and the sound of her voice, but little else. She was going to have an adventure, and when she came back, she would be more experienced and in better mental health. But there was no way to know how long it would take.

His last sight of her that night was in the doorway, her hand on the wall as she dimmed the light, her face illuminated by the dying orange cast of the gas jet. Lillian Carter knew how to leave a room with a flourish, and Charles loved the pauses before she left. She whispered, eyebrows arching, "The next time we see each other, we'll both have changed so much!" She put her fingers to her lips as if she'd just told him a secret. As she closed the door, slowly, stepping backward into the hall, Charles memorized the look of promise on her half-shadowed face, the way she anticipated a great mystery. It would be his last sight of her for two years.

Copyright © 2001 by Glenn David Gold

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darkkat, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by darkkat)
An essential read in the first decade of the the 21st century. An elegant novel that brought the early years of the 20th century alive with magic in both subject, content, and style. A book about magic that in fact is magic.
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caladonialove, January 10, 2007 (view all comments by caladonialove)
If you like historical fiction, you'll enjoy this book. The prose is nicely-done, and the story is worthwhile. Maybe the most engaging thing about the novel is the way the reader is invited behind the scenes, both of the magic shows and the main character's psyche.
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Product Details

Gold, Glen David
Hachette Books
Gold, Glen
Mystery & Detective - Historical
Historical fiction
Mystery fiction
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
1st paperback ed.
Edition Description:
Publication Date:
September 2002
Grade Level:
from 8 up to 17
8 x 5.1875 in 19.2 oz
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Literature
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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Mystery » Historical
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Suspense
History and Social Science » American Studies » Popular Culture

Carter Beats the Devil Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.95 In Stock
Product details 496 pages Hyperion Books - English 9780786886326 Reviews:
"Review" by , "While Carter Beats the Devil is not a brilliantly written book, it does accomplish something rare (and something few contemporary novelists even try): It creates its own world. Indeed, Gold's material is utterly irresistible — flappers, bootleggers, Secret Service goons, beautiful magician's assistants, icky mobsters — and it's impossible not to be engrossed." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "An enormously assured first novel."
"Review" by , "Like the best magicians, Gold puts on an amazing show, distracting his readers at critical moments and delighting them when surprises are revealed. A brilliant first novel from a promising new author."
"Review" by , "[T]oo often Gold lets his research become his tale...storytelling and character development grind to a halt under the weight of all that imparted knowledge....A wildly ambitious performance from a first-novelist who has all the tricks in his bag — but just doesn't know how to use them yet."
"Review" by , "[T]horoughly entertaining...a fanciful pastiche of history, fantasy and romance....As it unfolds as both mystery and historical romance, readers, long before the denouement, will be torn between the pull of the suspense and wanting the epic to go on forever."
"Review" by , "Serves up sparkling droves, and in the end Glen David Gold makes good on the promise of his title."
"Review" by , "[A] marvelous work that portrays a performer and an era with a sense of wonder and mystery....An absorbing first novel, Carter Beats the Devil is a wondrous work. From its bravura beginning to its riveting climax, Gold's novel defies the reader to perform the trick of putting the book down."
"Review" by , "[A] walloping, exuberant read...[that] deserves to pivot its some sort of fame....Like Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which mined similar territory, Carter Beats the Devil is a single-read wonder, closer in tone to an intellectualized Indiana Jones adventure, but far more satisfying."
"Review" by , "[A]s fascinating — and also as frustrating — as a conjurer's act....[T]here's not much of substance for the reader to start with....Gold redeems himself in the subsequent chapters of this often elegantly written book. He spins a fascinating story....Genuine interest and concern for the compelling Carter kept me turning the pages, even when my patience with the convoluted plot flagged....At the heart of this elaborate literary performance, the magic is there."
"Review" by , "[R] turns tender, suspenseful and thoughtful, at once sprawling and taut....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."
"Review" by , "[S]howy, suspenseful, dazzlingly theatrical....[T]he plot strands that are introduced at midpoint lead directly to an Act 3 that's so tense and breathless that even the unsurprising nature of Harding's big secret, finally revealed, can't take the kick out of Carter's grandest theatrical event. This is the magic show of one's dreams, described by Gold in language that will surely enthrall even the most casual reader."
"Review" by , "Here is a book — a first novel, no less — to blow you away. It seeks to stun and amaze and deceive and, always, to entertain; and it seldom misses a trick....Sometimes Gold seems to have wandered too far from any possible relevance, to be simply enjoying himself. But it's impossible, at the end, to carp. This is the most exuberant stew of a novel: strange, tasty, addictive."
"Review" by , "[D]elightful....Gold weaves the rich history of this period through his own stagecraft, creating a novel worthy of the hype that announced those great Vaudeville magicians....In a book full of conjurers, Gold emerges as the best magician of all, pulling surprises out of his hat throughout this wildly entertaining story, which captures America in a moment of change and wonder."
"Review" by , "Audacious debut novel."
"Review" by , "Here's excellent magic: the hours vanish, the pages turn themselves."
"Review" by , "In his first novel, Glen David Gold gives a top-hat-and-tails performance worthy of a veteran trouper. Carter Beats the Devil is a novel-novel, the way The Thief of Baghdad, say, is a movie-movie. It is all the things a good novel has always been expected to be: suspenseful, compendious, moving, and persuasive. It transports you to another world, and the returns you to this one with a new way of looking at familiar things. I began it with a sense of regret that the faster I turned the pages the sooner I would be obliged to exit the enchanting world that Mr. Gold has devised for us."
"Review" by , "Settle into your chair, get comfortable and prepare for an absolutely marvelous journey into magic and illusion. You hold in your hands the thick velvet curtains and the stage is waiting: open up! What a lucky reader you are, with all of Gold?s world of wonder waiting right here in your fingertips..."
"Review" by , "I've been a practicing magician for over forty years and Glen Gold has completely baffled me. His historically based novel, Carter Beats the Devil, is layered with accurate descriptions of strange-looking apparatuses, the distinct language used by magicians, and with eccentric personalities that existed only during the heyday of vaudeville. It was a secret world that, by necessity, was closed to outsiders, and yet Gold's relentless research has allowed him to slowly untangle his tale of murder and intrigue in an environment that so accurately re-creates the Golden Age of Magic that one sometimes forgets that this story is simply a product of Glen Gold's devious mind."
"Review" by , "Carter Beats the Devil is an absorbing mystery, full of magic, romance, and history and populated with fascinating characters, both real and imagined, from the great Houdini, to a doomed President Harding, to the villainous Mysterioso. Glen David Gold is a first-rate storyteller, with his own hoard of magician's tricks."
"Review" by , "Gold has conjured one dead president, one blood-sucking dog, a ship full of pirates, and a cabal of Secret Service agents. it all makes for a wild and heartstopping show. Beautifully written, packed with fun, scares, and surprises. And magic in every word."
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