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Carter Beats the Devil: A Novel [Hardcover]

Glen Gold
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Sept. 5 2001
An amazing, richly evocative novel of magic and history in the tradition of E. L. Doctorow and Caleb Carr.

America in the 1920s was a nation obsessed with magic. Not just the kind performed in theaters and on stages across the country, but the magic of technology, science, and prosperity. Enter Charles Carter -- a.k.a. Carter the Great -- a young master performer whose skill as an illusionist exceeds even that of the great Houdini. Fueled by a passion for magic that grew out of desperation and loneliness, Carter has become a legend in his own time. His thrilling act involves outrageous stunts carried out on elaborate sets before the most demanding audiences. But the most outrageous stunt of all stars none other than President Warren Harding and ends up nearly costing Carter the reputation he worked so hard to create. Filled with historical references that evoke the excesses and enthusiasm of postwar, pre-Depression America, Carter Beats the Devil is the complex and illuminating story of one man's journey through a magical -- and sometimes dangerous -- world, where illusion is everything, and everything is illusory.


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From Amazon

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.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am craving more Gold! March 17 2004
Format:Paperback
I would love to read this book again. But what would be the point! I remember each detail as though I had read it yesterday.
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Carter Beats Self Feb. 15 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Carter Beats The Devil is a fairly interesting read. This book would definately find a nice place in the hands of those that enjoy history and interesting tidbits about how things gained their names ie how lofts (apartments) gained their name. Futhermore, CBTD starts off with a jump and kept my attention until a little over half way through the book. At this point, I found myself struggling to finish the book. I began exclusively seeking those historical tidbits just to make the last half of the book bearable. With that (attempting not to give anything away) the romance shared between Carter and his lover became highly unrealistic. It almost felt like the author was struggling to turn the novel into some dime store romance fling (and not a well written one at that). I found it completely unbelievable and dreadful to read. All in all, I finished the book and would like to conclude that it is creative and there are many interesting little side suprises throughout the book. However, if your looking for something amazing then I would skip this book and keep looking.
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4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable read Jan. 14 2004
Format:Paperback
The amount of research that Gold put into Carter Beats the Devil is readily apparent - yet this work of historical fiction reads like a novel. The first 80% of the book leads in a very pleasant and engrossing way up to the climactic scene that takes place during Carter's last major show. While Gold doesn't give away many tricks - he does make you feel as if you were standing in the wings of the Orpheum Theater. You can see, hear and almost touch the audience, the catwalk above, the dressing rooms...you are there with Carter (albiet with a slightly blocked view) as he performs his greatest tricks and has the time of his life - and as the other plotlines come to a head. I started into this scene at 10:30pm - and didn't stop until 12am even thought I had to get up at 5am!
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.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Devil of a Good Time Dec 2 2003
Format:Paperback
***Some spoilers ahead***
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Magic and Intrigue at the Turn of the Century Nov. 16 2003
By gac1003
Format:Paperback
Thursday, August 2, 1923. Magician Carter the Great is performing the third act of his show, the act called "Carter Beats the Devil." He' set up earlier to have a volunteer from the audience come on-stage, President Warren G. Harding.
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.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Carter Beats Boredom
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 more
Published on May 23 2004 by A. Jarrells
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Story and Enjoyable Reading
Carter Beats the Devil was a very enjoyable read. I enjoy fiction that refers to history, and this book was very interesting. Read more
Published on March 17 2004 by Donna Grayson
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid book
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 more
Published on March 17 2004 by Scott E. Conrad
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite novel published this century
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 more
Published on Oct. 20 2003 by J. Lawrence
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but not profound
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 more
Published on Oct. 8 2003 by P. Lozar
4.0 out of 5 stars Historical Fact and Fiction Mesh-Pot
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 more
Published on Sept. 28 2003 by B. Merritt
3.0 out of 5 stars Abracadabra
In Glen David Gold's Carter Beats the Devil, we tread through historical facts to follow the fictional life of Charles Carter. Read more
Published on Sept. 11 2003 by Jason Baer
5.0 out of 5 stars So well done you'll think its true
I love books that successfully blend fiction with historical facts. There's something about a story that successfully weaves fictional characters into the factual past in such a... Read more
Published on Aug. 22 2003 by James Sadler
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