Carter Beats the Devil: A Novel Hardcover – Sep 5 2001
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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.
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Top Customer Reviews
Just looked up my old review and was amazed that it has been
2 1/2 years since I read it. This will always be one of my all-time favorites. Glen, you are really Gold.
The details of life in San Francisco in the teens/20's are rich, the writing is clear, Carter is well fleshed out (though the rest of the characters are a little stereotypical)...this is a good read. I'd recommend it to someone who was not in the mood for anything deep but didn't want anything cheesy or trashy. A fun book worth your while.
This book took a little while to get moving for me, but once it did, it really took off and I was hooked.
"Carter Beats the Devil" is a sprawling thing, loosely historical (very loosely) and freshly unpredictable. I didn't realize until I read Glen David Gold's afterword that Charles Carter was a real magician performing in the heyday (teens and '20s) of the magic boom in the U.S. But don't be scared away by a dose of history with your fiction. The history on display here is only history in the loosest sense of the word. This book is first and foremost a work of fiction; let's face it---any book that has Warren Harding living on a deserted island with his wife and a menagerie of retired circus animals can't be taken too seriously, right?
The beginning of the book, detailing Carter's childhood and his motivations in becoming a magician, aren't that involving. For once, I just didn't care why he became a magician, and I would have accepted "he just wanted to perform magic" as reason enough. But on top of motivation not being necessary, the motivation Gold does provide isn't particularly interesting.
On top of the weak beginning, I thought the book was going to run a predictable course: Begin with framing device, explain childhood of protagonist, explain success of protagonist, explain downfall of protagonist, explain comeback of protagonist, return to framing device. I thought the novel would end with Harding's death, since that it is where it starts. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the real plot didn't even get started until after Harding has "died." Once I reached this point in the book, I couldn't put it down and found scene after scene to be thrilling and memorable: the demonstration of T.V.Read more ›
Two hours after the show, President Harding is found dead in his hotel room. Charles Carter, the Magician, is the main suspect, and Secret Service Agent Jack Griffin is determined to prove his guilt.
Glen David Gold's novel follows the life of Charles Carter, from his childhood days with his seemingly neglectful parents to his first major illusion that makes his name and earns the friendship of Harry Houdini -- and a terrible enemy. From that day on, he strives to create the next, great illusion and in the process learns of a secret from President Harding that will revolutionize the world, but which also puts him in danger. All the while, he struggles with the accidental death of his wife Sarah.
The characters are well-drawn and realistic, and that, mixed in with actual persons from the time period, make for a more believable story. The descriptions of the magic acts are some of the most suspenseful scenes I've read -- case in point is Blackmail, the first big illusion that gets him really noticed in the industry -- and had me eagerly turing the page to find out what happens. As it states in the book, a magician never reveals his tricks so you must read the book to understand what I mean. At the same time, gold creatives a vivid picture of Vaudeville and the life its performers lead. Not to mention the terrific desriptions of the San Francisco of the 1920's.
Full of fantastic charcaters, both real and fictional, this novel is full of excitement, adventure and intrigue.
Most recent customer reviews
I haven't been inspired to write a review in some time, but felt that this book warranted it. This is a truly, truly enjoyable read. Mr. Read morePublished on May 23 2004 by A. Jarrells
Carter Beats the Devil was a very enjoyable read. I enjoy fiction that refers to history, and this book was very interesting. Read morePublished on March 17 2004 by Donna Grayson
This is a fun historic novel. It does a good job of grabbing you at the beginning and I will admit some of the middle of the book dragged. Read morePublished on March 17 2004 by Scott E. Conrad
I don't really like much modern fiction - most of it is too self-absorbed (that is, the author thinks he or she is really smart and wants you to know it) or too negative (we all... Read morePublished on Oct. 20 2003 by J. Lawrence
I enjoyed this book in general. The story is engaging, and the plot has enough twists and turns to keep the reader fascinated without becoming confusing. Read morePublished on Oct. 8 2003 by P. Lozar
Charles Carter (aka Carter The Great) is a magician with quite a lot of baggage. He's being taled by a secret service agent (Griffin) who believes he helped assassinate President... Read morePublished on Sept. 28 2003 by B. Merritt
In Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, we tread through historical facts to follow the fictional life of Charles Carter. Read morePublished on Sept. 11 2003 by Jason Baer
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