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The Secret of Magic

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  1,568 Ratings  ·  291 Reviews
In 1946, a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South.

Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.

As a child, Regina was
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published January 21st 2014 by G.P. Putnam's Sons (first published January 1st 2014)
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Irene I honestly really liked the book (and wished I knew more books about the subject). It is not a typical book as it is a mystery detective kind of book,…moreI honestly really liked the book (and wished I knew more books about the subject). It is not a typical book as it is a mystery detective kind of book, and halfway in the story you find out everyone already knows the answer. Most of the book is about how everyone in the story deals with the truth. I'd say that if you are interested in stories about the segregation in the south of the USA in the past it is a good read, if that is not your cup of tea, then I wouldn't recommend it. (less)
Irene There is no magic in this book. It's only about Racial issues in post WWII USA
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Diane S ☔
Aug 09, 2016 Diane S ☔ rated it liked it
3.5 1946, the war is over and a young black man, a decorated veteran, is returning home by bus, to Alabama and his waiting father. He never makes it and his body is found several days later and his father wants justice for the murder of his son.

This is the beginning of the Civil Rights era, but it has not yet reached the deep South, where a white man can brag about killing a black man, without fear of repercussions, especially a young, wealthy white man from a prominent family.

The tangled lives
Dale Harcombe
Jul 20, 2016 Dale Harcombe rated it liked it
Three and a half stars
The time is October 1945 and Joe Howard Wilson, a young Negro soldier is on his way back home to Mississippi and his father. But he never makes it home. Then his body is found. The law classifies his death as an accident. But there are those who know it was not. Move forward twelve months and the NAACP Legal Defense receives a letter from well-known author M.P. Calhoun asking for the death of Joe Howard Wilson and the court’s ruling to be investigated. Thurgood Marshall all
Shelleyrae at Book'd Out

In the Secret of Magic, the authenticity of historical fact blends seamlessly with fiction to explore the tragic murder of a young man and a woman's determination to bring those responsible to justice.

In 1946 a young African American serviceman, Joe Howard Wilson, recently returned from the fighting in Italy, is beaten to death on his way home to Revere, Mississippi. A year later, his death having been ruled an accident, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York receives a letter asking them to
Laura P
4-1/2 Stars

When I finished this book… all I could say was “Wow”! An incredible story that led me to experience a wide range of emotions from beginning to end. When I first picked up this book and read the back cover, I had second thoughts about reading it. It just didn’t sound as appealing as the blurb must have when I first requested a copy. But I dove in anyway…. a little slow at first…. but it soon sucked me deep into the story within the story. This is a must read for anyone interested in th
Nicole R
The secret of incorporating literary magic into a novel obviously eluded Ms. Johnson.

Joe Howard Wilson is returning home to Mississippi after fighting in WW2. He is looking forward to seeing his father Willie Willie but knows that the war has changed how he views race relations in the South. When he turns up dead, Ms. Mary Pickett Calhoun writes the legendary Thurgood Marshall to come down from New York to help sort things out. But, Mr. Marshall sends Ms. Regina Robihcaud instead and she gets he
Feb 16, 2014 Audrey rated it it was ok
I really wanted to like this book but it just wasn't that interesting. It had all the makings of a great read - historical fiction loosely based on real people, advent of the civil rights movement post WWII, one of the first african american female attorneys, the newish NAACP and appearances by a young Thurgood Marshall. Plus, the other story line was a fictional beloved children's book. But, something was off about the story and writing style. The underlying description of mistreatment of the r ...more
Feb 02, 2014 Kathleen rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book, beautifully written. If you are reading, teaching, learning about Black History Month, make time for this book. Set in Mississippi and New York in the late 1940s, it centers around a young, female African-American lawyer for the NAACP Negro Defense Fund who is sent by Thurgood Marshall to investigate the murder of a returning black soldier.
Mar 27, 2015 Linda rated it it was ok
After a long library que wait, finally I sat down to begin a much anticipated read. Inside this beautifully designed cover is the story of four people who are determined to challenge the "way things have always been done" in Revere, Mississippi. Its 1945, the war is over. First leutenant John Howard is going home. He quietly rides the Bonnie Blue Bus line sitting in the colored section until he is asked to give up his seat to German POW's. And there it begins, the fight for dignity and justice f ...more
Dec 24, 2014 Cosima rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: everyone
Lieutenant Joe Howard Wilson is returning home via bus after being honorably discharged from the Army for his service in WW2. He ends up being brutally murdered before he can make it all the way home to Mississippi. Regina Robichard is a rookie lawyer from New York who works under the tutelage of Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. She feels that she can prove herself to her male coworkers by helping to solve this case and getting justice for Joe Howard's father, Willie Willie. Re ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Rachelle rated it liked it
A black WWII decorated soldier heads home to Mississippi in 1946, he is taken off a bus by a group of hooded men and is found dead a week later. His death is ruled an accident and no criminal charges are filed. But someone cares about what happened and sends a letter to Thurgood Marshall at his NAACP office in New York. A young black female attorney on Marshall's staff goes down to Mississippi to investigate. While the story evolves too slowly (I think they could have edited it down by 50 pages) ...more
K.E. Garvey
Nov 27, 2015 K.E. Garvey rated it really liked it
The Secret of Magic is a book within a book. Although my initial thoughts were that such a stylistic choice would be hard to follow or confusing, my initial impression was wrong.

First, the pros:

The author’s voice and style. Much of her prose is poetic. The flow and delivery of the story is smooth and melodic.

The setting. The author sets up 1946 rural Mississippi well enough to take us there without an overload of detail to take away from the story.

I enjoyed the fact that the read and the book wi
This book, The Secret of Magic, by Deborah Johnson, is a deeply moving story about a Jim Crow days in the deep South, in Mississippi, after World War II. This fictional account is based on an actual event when a young black veteran is murdered by a group of white hooded men shortly after retuning home from the war. Following an incident on a public bus when the Honored Veteran Joe Howard Wilson refused to give up his seat to a Nazi prisoner he was removed by a group of white hooded men, and his ...more
Sep 14, 2014 Nicholas rated it it was amazing
I'm not big on historical fiction, but The Secret of Magic won me over almost instantly. Loosely based on a number of historical figures (Thurgood Marshall, Constance Baker Motley), as well as incidents and institutions during the 1940s (the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the lynchings of returning black WW II servicemen in the South) the actual story is all the invention of the author. And it's a really compelling story. Regina Robichard, the first woman to be hired by Marshall at the NAACP, goes ...more
Lydia Presley
Jan 21, 2014 Lydia Presley rated it really liked it
To be honest, I wasn't sure what I would think of The Secret of Magic . There's a comparison to The Help in the blurb on the front of the advanced copy I received from Penguin, and that was almost enough to put me off of reading The Secret of Magic . You see, while The Help was good for a few chuckles from me, I still couldn't get past how much I disliked the dynamics of the book. I hated seeing everything made right by yet another privileged white woman who comes to the rescue. And while I unde ...more
Wilhelmina Jenkins
I enjoyed Deborah Johnson's first novel, The Air Between Us, and I enjoyed this one as well. The concept of the book was compelling - a young African American soldier returns from WWII and is murdered on his way home. An author from his hometown in Mississippi - a white woman who wrote a best seller about her childhood - writes the NAACP requesting an investigation by Thurgood Marshall. Instead, the NAACP sends a young African American woman lawyer who knows very little about life in the Jim Cro ...more
Rebecca McNutt
Set right after the Second World War, this book is part mystery and part nostalgic trip through the past, although the circumstances involve going through prejudice and murder to find the truth. It was written in a style similar to My Sunshine Away and The Help, and the story is unforgettable.
A very enjoyable book about a young black female civil rights lawyer in 1946. Regina Mary Robichard is inspired to travel to Mississippi to help in solving the murder case of a young black soldier when the author of her favorite book writes to her office for help. When Regina gets to Revere, she finds out that the case is going to be a lot more difficult than she believed. She is deep in Jim Crow laws, lynching is very common and the white men and women who take part in the racist acts are not i ...more
Elizabeth of Silver's Reviews

A year-old murder, a book paralleling events and characters, and the South in the 1940's after WWII.

The charm of the South as well as its deep-seated prejudices comes forth in THE SECRET OF MAGIC as Regina Robichard travels from New York City to Revere, Mississippi, to investigate the murder of a young black man just returning from the war.

Regina hits brick walls right from the start even though she was invited by M. P. Calhoun, a powerful woman and author of a book also titled The Secret of Mag
Bree T
Feb 19, 2014 Bree T rated it really liked it
In 1946, Regina Robichard is hired by Thurgood Marshall at the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Legan Defense Fund. She has sat the bar in New York but will not hear of her results for another couple of weeks. One Saturday whilst hard at work, Regina opens a letter address to Marshall from a famous reclusive children’s author, M.P Calhoun.

Calhoun asks Thurgood Marshall to travel to the town of Revere in Mississippi to investigate the murder of returned servicema
Feb 28, 2015 Carol rated it really liked it
This is a story within a story that held me tightly until the last page. In fact, I went on to read the author's acknowledgments and note; I didn't want it to end. In the main story, it is 1946 (incidentally, the year I was born), and the main character, Regina Robichard, works for Thurgood Marshall, the leader of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York. She is sent to Mississippi to investigate the death of a black war hero who had been heading home. In the secondary story, woven beautifully a ...more
Jan 21, 2014 Camilla rated it it was amazing
Shelves: arc
Deborah Johnson does a wonderful job of storytelling in The Secret of Magic. I've heard stories of encounters between Whites and African Americans in the South and they closely mirror the experiences that Ms. Johnson describes.
This is story is set in post World War II Mississippi, 1945. A young Negro attorney from New York, Regina Robichard, armed with a letter written by M.P. Calhoun and a photograph of Joe Howard Wilson and his father, Willie Willie, goes to Revere, Mississippi to investigate
Tara Chevrestt
Dec 24, 2013 Tara Chevrestt rated it really liked it
Reading this novel was like studying a piece of art. It makes the reader feel a gamut of emotions and like a connect-the-dots, you try to figure out how it all comes together. And though it doesn't tie itself up in a tidy bow in the end--this is about real life, after all, you're somehow left feeling satisfied.

You walk away from it with your life more enriched than before the book appeared in your hands.

In a nutshell: an African-American woman is trying to make it as a lawyer with the NAACP, wor
Priscilla Reyes
Mar 23, 2014 Priscilla Reyes rated it liked it
I want to like this book. I really do, but the author just droned on and on and pages and pages passed with absolutely nothing quite happening. I found myself skipping along to relevant parts because I was so lost in all the gibberish that really meant nothing. I do like her style of writing, i just wish she would have applied herself better. I almost done with the book but It really is proving itself a challenge as I am almost tempted to set it aside. But, for the respect of the story and the h ...more
Jun 21, 2014 Kendall rated it it was amazing
The Secret of Magic is a thoroughly enjoyable read. Inspired by a true case of a WWII serviceman who was singled out and arrested on a bus in the North Carolina, then brutally abused while in custody for insisting on his most basic civil rights, Deborah Johnson weaves a magical realist tale combined with realities of the the early Civil Rights era. Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund figure in the novel, and 1940's Columbus, MS, provides much of the backdrop for the fictional to ...more
Oct 04, 2015 Jane rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book much more than I did, but I finished,s o that says something. The cover blurb says it's riveting. I did not find it so. And if you think it's about Thurgood Marshall - it's not.
Mar 29, 2014 Debbie rated it it was ok
This book was a huge disappointment....I really expected to like it, unfortunately the best parts are the title, cover, and first chapter. I liked Joe Howard and wish he had been the main character instead of Regina. I found the book extremely boring. Did not like the authors writing style, too wordy with not much to say. Everything was so drawn out, even the climax had me skimming the pages for something interesting amongst all the garble. I mean I wanted to find out what was happening, I reall ...more
Three and a half stars

A very pleasant read filled an afternoon
Aug 10, 2014 Linnet rated it it was ok
It's 1949. Regina is a lawyer, working for Thurgood Marshall in New York City. She's sent to the south to investigate the murder of a young black man recently returned from the war. Regina comes face to face with the Jim Crow south, and the violence done to black people there, as the veterans returning begin to demand their rights. It would be an interesting story if not for the strange side story of a book written by one of the characters entitled The Secret of Magic. That side story just didn' ...more
Interesting book this. The story, a murder investigation of a returning black lieutenant by a gang of whites, is a side line to the treatment of justice to the different 'races', and the concepts of family, loyalty, place, community and opportunity.
As a sense of place, I got the feeling of it. I was outraged by the differences in Mississippi in the late 1940s, I caught a glimpse of the unfairnesses, the difference between New York and 'down south'. I got the smell of the environment, the wildli
Mar 08, 2016 Cody rated it it was ok
I am quite surprised by how many people have enjoyed this book. I thought for sure when I checked out some reviews, there would be more naysayers...anyway. I picked up this book because I enjoy historical fiction, and this part of American history, a time during the lead up to the Civil Rights movement when black Americans were beginning to find their voice.

As I began to read the opening couple of chapters, I was interested. I was waiting in eager anticipation for resolution to the supposed murd
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Deborah Johnson was born below the Mason-Dixon Line, in Missouri, but grew up in Omaha, Nebraska.

After college, she lived in San Francisco and then for many years in Rome, Italy where she worked as a translator and editor of doctoral theses and at Vatican Radio.

Deborah Johnson is the author of The Air Between Us, which received the Mississippi Library Association Award for fiction. She now lives
More about Deborah Johnson...

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“Outside, it was coming on night. Twilight. “The magic time,” his daddy called it, “the make-a-wish moment between the dark and the light.” 4 likes
“You will find that the past is still very much alive down here.” 2 likes
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