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A Tremendous Tale of Magic and Intrigue

Gold's Carter Beats the Devil Relives the Turn-of-the-Century Bay Area

Writing a review of Glen David Gold's captivating debut novel left me wracking my brain for witty and apt trickster phrases. Let's just start by saying that in Carter Beats the Devil, Gold has a full deck of cards up his sleeve. Nimbly written and gloriously detailed, this historical novel traverses the life of magician Charles Carter, a native San Franciscan, who finds himself involved in a mystery of sorts.

President Harding has mysteriously died, following his attendance at a magic show in San Francisco where, among other tricks, Carter handily beats the Devil. Is Carter involved in the President's death? The answer to that question becomes clear after more than 400 pages action-packed with the exploits of Carter, Secret Service agents, fighting women, villainous pirates, Houdini, inventors, an aging lion named Baby and a blood-thirsty dog named Handsome.

Learning the behind-the-scenes details of famous magic tricks feels almost like an added bonus when there is so much else going on. Carter is a sympathetic character, ambitious and flawed like many of us, and his path from a young wealthy boy disturbed by a freak show giant's ability to stealthily steal his prized coin, to a struggling magician, to a world-famous performer, and then down and around again, is engaging and refreshing. Well-paced and smartly constructed, the story lines of jealous intrigue, technological innovation and true love converge in a finale that does not disappoint.

As Gold pulls back the curtain on the secret world of magic, he also delivers a love story, an adventure thriller and a charming piece of local history. Descriptions of the famous snowstorm of 1897, magic performances at the grand Orpheum Theater on Market Street, and old-time Oakland amusement parks reveal the Bay Area in a refreshing, oft-forgotten historical light. Carter's childhood in Pacific Heights, his ferry rides to Oakland, and his visits to local brothels are the stuff of nostalgic local lore.

In contrast to the recent glut of memoirs and "memoir-based" novels, Carter Beats the Devil feels almost old-fashioned in the greatest sense of the word. With a beautiful cover and design, this charming, suspenseful tome is a juicy and satisfying pick for these chilly San Francisco nights. Visit your local independent store and treat yourself to something tremendous.

Carter Beats the Devil
By Glen David Gold
Hyperion; ISBN: 0786867345
Hardcover - 483 pages, September 2001

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