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Editorial Reviews Review

In Carter Beats the Devil, Glen David Gold subjects the past to the same wondrous transformations as the rabbit in a skilled illusionist's hat. Gold's debut novel opens with real-life magician Charles Carter executing a particularly grisly trick, using President Warren G. Harding as a volunteer. Shortly afterwards, Harding dies mysteriously in his San Francisco hotel room, and Carter is forced to flee the country. Or does he? It's only the first of many misdirections in a magical performance by Gold. In the course of subsequent pages, Carter finds himself pursued by the most hapless of FBI agents; falls in love with a beautiful, outspoken blind woman; and confronts an old nemesis bent on destroying him. Throw in countless stunning (and historically accurate) illusions, some beautifully rendered period detail, and historical figures like young inventor Philo T. Farnsworth and self-made millionaire Francis "Borax" Smith, and you have old-fashioned entertainment executed with a decidedly modern sensibility.

Gold has written for movies and TV, so it's no surprise that he delivers snappy, fast-paced dialogue and action scenes as expertly scripted as anything that's come out of Hollywood in years. Carter Beats the Devil has a mustachioed villain, chase scenes, a lion, miraculous escapes, even pirates, for God's sake. Yet none of this is as broadly drawn as it might sound: Gold's characters are driven by childhood sorrows and disappointments in love, just like the rest of us, and they're limned in clever, quicksilver prose. By turns suspenseful, moving, and magical, this is the historical novel to give to anyone who complains that contemporary fiction has lost the ability to both move and entertain. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Set against the backdrop of early 20th-century San Francisco during the heyday of such legendary illusionists and escape artists as Harry Houdini, this thoroughly entertaining debut by an amateur magician with an M.F.A. in creative writing is a fanciful pastiche of history, fantasy and romance. The plot turns around the questionable circumstances surrounding scandal-beleaguered President Warren Harding's unexpected death on August 2, 1923, shortly after appearing on stage with the magician Carter the Great in San Francisco. Trapped without adults during the historic San Francisco blizzard of 1897, nine-year-old Charlie Carter discovers a book on magic in his father's library and entertains his brother with coin and card tricks. By the time he is 17, at the suggestion of famous "20-Mule Team" millionaire Borax Smith, Carter finds a booking with a seedy vaudeville troupe during summer vacation. Following graduation, he procures a more reputable booking and elects to postpone Yale for a year. At the end of his second tour, he is hooked and never returns to academia. Marvelously layered between flashbacks romanticizing the real Charles Carter's early years on and off the stage and later action in the mid-'20s with Secret Service Agent Griffin's conviction that Carter knows Harding's apocryphal secret, the saga has the dash of Harold Robbins and the sweep and erudition of E.L. Doctorow. 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. (Sept.)Forecast: Hyperion is putting $100,000 of marketing muscle behind this dazzling debut, with eye-catching cover art from a vintage magic poster on the front and effusive praise from the likes of Michael Chabon on the back, so prestidigitation won't be required to make it fly off shelves.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; First Edition edition (September 18, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000S6MF86
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (230 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,347,120 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This book could have been half as long and been too long.
Rina Jenkins
Glen David Gold's "Carter Beats the Devil" is a fictionalized account of the exploits of Charles "Carter the Great" Carter, an American illusionist and magician.
Cory D. Slipman
I love books that successfully blend fiction with historical facts.
James Sadler

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 44 people found the following review helpful By bensmomma on December 3, 2002
Format: Hardcover
My favorite novels, particularly historical novels, perfectly capture the era in which they are set not just in the character and setting but also in the style they are written. I like my Victorian novels epic and sooty, for example. "Carter Beats the Devil", based (VERY loosely) on the actual life and career of Charles Carter (NOT Houdini, as implied by some other reviewers), a turn-of-the century magician, perfectly brings to life the 1920s era.
The elaborate, tricky, and slightly melodramatic plot leaves me wondering 'what next' like an old "Perils of Pauline" silent film (the ones with the dame tied to the railroad tracks). It has the slightly slapstick quality of those movies, too. Even the modest romantic interludes have a 20s sincerity to them. It's as thrilling as a summer blockbuster movie, circa 1927.
Since the book had a reputation as a 'literary' novel, I was surprised how well it worked as sheer entertainment. This doesn't mean it lacks depth, though. Carter (the magician character) is not what you think he is, a mystery to be worked out. The same is true of many of the characters. The author gets you to think about the meaning of deception and honesty, escape and confinement, even the price and value of freedom.

It's even more interesting to read because Gold borrows techniques from magic itself to accomplish this; the author is quite adept at slight-of-hand and misdirection. You will not soon guess how it ends!
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Lewis Rose on October 10, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I must confesss that I do not know what drove me to buy this book in the first place. I usually read business books and biographies. But for reasons that I do not recall, I stumbled across Carter Beats the Devil and bought it. I don't usually buy books of this genre. In fact, I am not really sure of the genre itself; Zelig and Ragtime come close but not quite there. I have concluded that Carter himself must have directed me to pick this card, I mean, book.
I found the book to be extraordinarly well written. The plot is full of quirky characters and twists that would be unbelievable but for the threads of historical fact (very loose factual threads actually) woven throughout. It's a real page turner and if you stick with all 500 pages or so, immensely satisfying. Over the past two weeks, whenever the reality of current events became oppressive, I escaped into the world of San Francisco of the 1920s painted gloriously (and with author's license) by Mr. Gold. Many a night ended with my wife asking me to please put the book down and turn off the light!
I look forward to reading the author's next work with much anticipation.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Royce E. Buehler on January 26, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Great literature this isn't, but grand, smart, sure-footed entertainment it is. Glen David Gold takes his readers on a twisting, rocketing roller coaster ride, and he is in full command of his effects, from the moment we step into the car until the moment it pulls to a gentle stop and we begin to breathe again.
The blurbs and the opening pages contain some of the trappings of a murder mystery, in the matter of President Harding's untimely death and the puzzle of what role, if any, the world-famous magician Carter the Great had to play in it. In fact, I bought the book because I have a neighbor with whom I swap off murder mysteries every couple of months. It's not exactly a bait and switch, and the puzzle is eventually resolved, but it is a bit of misdirection. The Harding subplot forms the bookends, not the book. I found I didn't mind in the least.
What we really get is more of a Bildungsroman than a whodunit: the story of Charles Carter's induction into the realm of stage magic, and the arc of his career. Along the way, Gold fully immerses us in two worlds just distant enough from us to be wonderfully exotic: the world of vaudeville in the final days before it was killed off by the talkies, and the world of the San Francisco upper crust as the twenties were beginning to roar.
It's reminiscent of Michael Chabon's "Kavalier and Clay" in the way it makes us part of a small fraternity of hardscrabble entertainers in the golden age of a genre, and the way we get to feel the dirt of their trade under our fingernails. (As it happens, the two books have massively intersecting acknowledgment pages.) But it lacks the high seriousness of Chabon's work.
It's also reminiscent, of course, of Ragtime, in its re-creation of an era and its free mixing of real with fictional characters.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I'll admit it... I rarely have the patience for a long novel. This book, however, is very, very different.
It's funny. It's clever. It's filled with joy and wonder and emotion and I cried twice.
I can't remember the last time I read a novel that I enjoyed so much. How much? At one point, I sat on an airplane (After a four hour flight) for ten minutes after we landed, trying to finish a chapter. They finally had to ask me to leave the plane so they could finish cleaning it.
Don't let the magic connection fool you. It has more to do with Ragtime than it does with a kid's birthday party. As a fan of magic, though, I can tell you that the references to big-time, old-fashioned vaudeville magic were terrific.
Sorry for the long review but I wanted you to realize that this is a must read. I wish I could read it again for the first time. Buy a few copies, and give them to friends.
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