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Carter Beats the Devil Hardcover – September, 2001

4.3 out of 5 stars 245 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com 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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Hyperion; 1st edition (September 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786867345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786867349
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (245 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,086,765 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This review is not about the quality of the book, which I bought for my husband and he was reading with considerable interest - until he suddenly ran smack dab into a giant blank in the story.

The PROBLEM is that he suddenly got "short-sheeted" so to speak by a book that doesn't pass the publisher double-check-the-editing (or galleys or something) test: On page 635, in Act 3 Chapter 10, the chapter has no ending. The bottom of page 635 is mid-sentence and the very next page - page 636 is already the next (?) "chapter" which is a whole new Act not called Act 4 but rather "Curtain." Who knows how many pages got left out at the end of Act 3 Chapter 10, but at least one page got left out. The page numbering was also wrong on the galleys or whatever because there is no missing page NUMBER - it goes from 635 to 636. But there is no end to the chapter - just swallowed up. The book is missing the equivalent of pages 635b and possibly 635c, 635d, etc...

As further evidence of just how many pages might be missing, your site says the book has 672 pages. The copy we got only has 662. (And there's no blank back page or anything - very odd to have a book's last page of story be facing the back cover. Clearly, a lot is wrong in this printing - and apparently about 10 pages of the story are missing -- and of all places, the 10 or so pages just before the final "Curtain"!

We of course didn't know that he had to start reading it the minute I gave it to him in order to discover this problem while the book was still in Amazon's returnable time window - as being defective.

Grrr. Help.
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