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Carter Beats the Devil


Carter Beats the Devil

Read an Excerpt

In today's world of theatrical entertainment we take it for granted
that a man can fly, apes can talk, and a lifelike T.Rex can order
up the entree of Stupid Explorer with a side of Villainous
Businessman. So it's difficult to imagine the sheer wonder and awe
audiences felt during the 1890s to the 1930s when stage
illusionists and magicians might saw a woman in half or make an
elephant disappear right on stage in a torrent of flash paper and
mystic incantations. And while today every 10-year-old knows
exactly how they created the CGI effects for Shrek and The Matrix
(and can probably do it themselves!), there's something elegantly
quaint about not knowing the inner mechanics of a visual trick, but
enjoying the ride anyway.

In his masterful debut novel, Gold works some literary magic of his
own in an engrossing, multilayered work of historical fiction that
also embodies adventure, social history, romance, and suspense
thriller. Its central character is real-life magician Charles
Carter, one of the best-known performers in magic's golden age and
a contemporary of Houdini. When President Warren G. Harding
mysteriously dies a day after taking part in one of Carter's stage
shows in which Harding is "killed," suspicion falls on the
magician, who is already burdened by the fact that scandal-plagued
Harding has a secret that can (and, in real-life retrospect, did)
change the world. The rest of the narrative jumps back and forth in
time from Carter's childhood and stage career to a suspenseful,
page-turning climax with more than a few shocks and twists up its
sleeve, not to mention a bloodsucking dog.

Gold's writing is at its best in the sections taking place on and
behind the stage and his meticulous research into the show business
of the era. Real-life arcane magic props and supplies really pay
off in making the reader not only visualize Carter's stage show in
vivid detail (according to Gold's notes, all of the magic described
in the book was actually attempted by performers), but in
transporting readers into the heart of another era. Just as finely
written are the chapters on Carter's childhood discovery of "kard
and koin" magic and his early career, where on any page you might
encounter Houdini backstage; the pirate Tulang on the high seas;
the Marx Brothers at a brothel; or inventor Philo Farnsworth, whose
creation is at the heart of Harding's "secret." There's also a host
of supporting "characters" that history buffs will recognize,
although you'll wish there was a factual appendix or guide. Less
successful is Gold's portrayal of bumbling Secret Service agents,
both on Carter's trail and at war with their brethren. It seems
awkwardly dropped into an otherwise smooth narrative.

This isn't the first historical fiction to blend magic and crime
--- in William Hjortsberg's inventive NEVERMORE, magician Harry
Houdini and Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, team up
to solve a string of murders based on Edgar Allan Poe stories. But
CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL is a more literary work than straight
mystery/thriller. It is also sparsely (too sparsely, though)
illustrated with wonderful magician posters of the era, including
the book's cover from the real Carter act for which it is

Gold has created and recreated an era and imbued it with a solid
story in CARTER BEATS THE DEVIL. It's a fine introduction for an
author whose magic is certainly sought after by any scribe --- the
ability to make pages rapidly disappear before your very

Reviewed by Bob Ruggiero on January 21, 2011

Carter Beats the Devil
by Glen David Gold

  • Publication Date: September 18, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • ISBN-10: 0786886323
  • ISBN-13: 9780786886326