Carter Beats the Devil
by Glen David Gold
A review by Adrienne Miller
GIST: A buoyant first novel about a real-life Houdini-era magician named Charles Carter (a.k.a. "Carter the Great").
DETAILS: 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. (Especially since this world of Gold's imagination is so much more fun and sparkly and colorful than the one we presently inhabit.) The book opens with an ebullient scene in which scandal-plagued President Harding is a volunteer (or [ghoulish-sounding laugh]...victim?) in one of Carter's acts — his head is eaten by a lion — but then he reappears on stage, alive and "radiating good health." Things get a little hairier later, though, when the president dies under mysterious circumstances in his hotel room. The rest of the book charts Carter's trajectory from child prodigy to world-famous magician, rivaled only by Houdini. While many of the characters and situations seem a bit too broadly drawn for this particular reviewer's taste, she certainly wasn't immune to their charms.
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