A delightful weave of history and fiction. The death of President Harding is interwoven with the life story and career of San Francisco prestidigitator Charles Carter, with unexpected magical disappearances and materializations. I highly recommend it, particularly for Bay Area folks, for the constant mentions of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland in the 1920s.
Here's some of my favorite things:
Charlie discovers his mother's vibrator in 1897:
"Vibration is life: What woman hasn't lost her fair share of life to the mysterious ailments that incapacitate her zest and zeal? Feminine complaints can constrict the flow of the vital humors, leading to restlessness, furtive amativeness, a corruption of morals and the downfall of her happy home.
Treat yourself to an invigorative cure! Lindstrom Smith White Cross Electric Vibrators provide 15,000 pulsations per minute, relieving pain, stiffness and weakness. Just five to ten minutes with the Electric Vibrator, and all the pleasures of youth will throb within you. Steady and frequent application treats hysteria, chlorosis, greensickness, neurasthenia and all manner of hysteroneurasthenic disorders, and even simple fatigue and melancholy.
Apply to the area that feels the most congestion, and let the Lindstrom Smith White Cross Electric Vibrator relieve you with its thrilling, penetrating, scientifically-proves action. The application, when pursued for five to ten minutes (time will indeed fly!), leads inevitably to a convulsion of the affected region, followed by blissful relaxation and sometimes a tranquil slumber.
Can be used in the privacy of the dressing room or the boudoir."(48)
Descriptions of the San Francisco Public Library newspaper room librarian, Olive White:
"A woman, friendly to the point of near frenzy..."(168)
"a woman behind an oak table piled high with newspapers, among vague and bulky fixtures covered with protective sheeting. She was a tall woman, and as she walked quickly around her table, Griffin noted the contrast of her porch dress and her galoshes...
As she talked, her hands moved like excitable pets...
Before Griffin could answer, Miss White explained that she didn't want to get her good shoes dirt during the renovations...
by the time Miss White had set Griffin up at a study carrel, he felt dizzy. He was better at handling criminals than a helpful citizen."(171)
Carter's wine label--"For Sacramental Use Only" during Prohibition--is a visual trick that's only visible from an extreme angle. See the label here