Sunil's Reviews > Carter Beats the Devil

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold
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's review
Jan 07, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: own, 2012, favorites
Read from March 24 to April 23, 2012

There are some books that are such a chore to get through they make you question why you even like reading in the first place. And then there are those books that remind why you love reading.

Carter Beats the Devil is such a book.

A sensationalistic, attention-getting summary of this book might read, "A stage magician is accused of murdering President Warren G. Harding!" And this is true and accurate, but the book is not some long and involved murder mystery with a stage magician frantically trying to clear his name. No, it is the highly fictionalized story of the life of Charles Carter, a.k.a. Carter the Great, a contemporary of Houdini (who makes an appearance, as do several other historical figures). Carter has an interesting and wondrous life (more wondrous than, say, Oscar Wao's), the kind of life I would prefer not to spoil any details about, and, as a bonus, we also get a complementary protagonist (or antagonist?) in Jack Griffin, the Secret Service agent chasing after him.

From the very first page, I felt that I was in the hands of a master storyteller, and that feeling never left; in fact, it only increased. I was positively giddy reading this book, often having audible reactions before something was about to be revealed. Glen David Gold spins a fantastic yarn that swept me into the story, transporting me back to San Francisco in the Roaring Twenties, and I didn't want to leave. I was reminded of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay , but, thankfully, this book does not have third-act issues; in fact, the third act is an exciting nail-biter. Like The Prestige, the book is structured like a magic trick itself, and Gold frequently uses misdirection as deftly as any stage magician.

I also loved the look into the world of stage magic; Gold makes reading about a magic show as exciting as actually watching one. In addition, I found it fascinating to read about the construction of all the mechanical illusions, as well as the musings on what audiences want from a magic show, what sort of emotional reactions do particular tricks elicit. Some of Carter's tricks seem impossible, but I was happy to leave some of the magic as, well, magic, since it was such a joy to imagine.

Carter Beats the Devil is an astounding achievement, a literary novel that's completely engrossing and immensely entertaining. This is the best book I've read since The Shadow of the Wind in September 2010. I've read great books since then, but nothing of this caliber. And I think the two books do share a few similarities that illuminate my tastes. I like sprawling narratives with evocative details of time and place, filled with Dickensian coincidences and narrative ironies, with different characters' plotlines intersecting.

I love this book. Read it.

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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Steinhoff Ooh! I read this! Can't wait to hear your opinion.

Sunil Over a hundred pages in, and I'm loving it so far! I always enjoy the feeling of being in the hands of a master storyteller. Plus: MAGIC!

message 3: by Ali (new) - added it

Ali M. Well, I'm convinced! Also, thanks for the push to read 'The Shadow of the Wind' – it's sitting on my shelf (I got it for Christmas) but I keep forgetting it's there. I suck.

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