Daniel Wallace recommends Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold
(Hyperion, 483 pp., $24.95)
The best novels with magicians in them are: Ragtime, by E.L. Doctorow, The Sunlight Dialogues, by John Gardner, The Magus, by John Fowles, and The Deptford Trilogy, by Robertson Davies. Add to this list Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold. This novel tells the story of Charles Carter, a real magician who practiced the art during its heyday, from the 1890s to the late 1920s. His rise and fall and rise parallels that of Houdini, Philo Farnsworth (the inventor of television) and President Harding, all of whom make appearances and disappearances in this almost 500-page novel.
The plot is a sprawling narrative full of deceit and murder and love and misdirection, impossible to summarize here. But I can't remember the last time I read a book this long that read this quickly, and this well: Language and plot happily co-exist. It's literature with an escape hatch. Also, the book itself is a beautiful thing, lovely to look at and to hold. I wish I were still reading it.
Daniel Wallace is the author of Big Fish and Ray in Reverse. He lives in Chapel Hill.