The Bullet Trick Paperback – Aug 16 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
William Wilson's stage magic career has tanked, girls sneer at him and he hits the bottle too often for someone whose livelihood depends on steady hands. Out of desperation, he makes two ruinous mistakes: he picks a policeman's pocket and then picks up Sylvie, an American burlesque dancer in Berlin with dangerously intimate connections to the criminal underworld. The seriousness of these errors becomes slowly, agonizingly clear through a series of suspense-building flashbacks—set in contemporary Berlin, London and Glasgow—that show just how low a mostly decent man can sink, especially when a pretty woman is dragging him down and the glimmer of redemption always dances just ahead. In this successor to her debut (The Cutting Room), Welsh nails the dialogue perfectly, capturing the self-deprecating hope of washed-up men and women hunting for that one big break and the pity and scorn heaped upon them by those who are better off. It's best to read this lurid tale in private, and wash your hands afterward. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Dead brilliant.... The Bullet Trick is all about illusion, about leading the audience's eyes to what you want them to see. And like the best tricksters, Welsh is in complete control." (NOW Magazine)See all Product Description
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the skills he was hired for had nothing to do with the stage and everything to do with his skill at picking pockets. When a theft sets off a chain of events leading to the death of Sam and his partner, William spends the next year on the run, trying to evade his own conscience and, more pressing, the man whose secret he now possesses. Set in the gritty pubs of Glasgow and London, as well as Berlin's seedy cabaret scene, The Bullet Trick is an adults-only tale, flashing between past and present, blurring the line between illusion and reality.
Louise Welsh's The Bullet Trick is a dark, yet exaggerated, noir tale that reads like a novel from an earlier time. Named after a dangerous magic trick in which a magician appears to catch a bullet in his mouth after the gun is fired directly at him, Welsh's novel does feature a variation of this classic act; however, in this version, Wilson is the one with the gun in his hand.
Wilson is a conjurer, guiding his audience's attention through the use of psychology, forcing them to see what he has created. Like a master conjurer, author Welsh uses words to create the burlesque and illusions that keep her readers' attention directed where she desires while skillfully working her slight of hand. Welsh is known for her highly evocative, yet economical language:
"Get over whatever it is that's bothering you, because right now you're going in one of two directions, the jail or the morgue. Now piss off. And remember, this is my local."
I looked around at the tired décor, the deflated men, the uneasy chairs, then back at the police inspector supping his first pint of the day at eight in the morning and said the worst thing I could think of.
"Aye, it suits you."
Elements of The Bullet Trick are drawn from Welsh's own trip to Berlin: the clockwork toys sold at Chamäleon Varieté, the acts taking turns serving drinks at Kleine Nachtrevue, the topless male aerialist plunged repeatedly into a bath of water to the sounds of "In The Heat of the Night" also at Chamäleon Varieté and the girl twirling dozens of hula hoops about her person at The Winter Garden. These small elements are minor details in the scope of the novel but add verisimilitude to this complex work. In an article written for the British newspaper Guardian Unlimited, Welsh stated "It's my lifelong ambition to be able to distinguish glamour from sleaze. Perhaps Berlin would teach me the difference." If The Bullet Trick is any indication, Welsh certainly fulfilled her desire.
While many readers found The Cutting Room much too disturbing, what is unsettling in The Bullet Trick is subtler. Violence is a core theme of both The Cutting Room and The Bullet Trick. One of Wilson's inamoratas questions him about the violence in his act, "...And you like the torture stuff?" After Wilson states he is not into pain, she shoots back with, "Not for yourself perhaps, but you chop women in two, stick them full of knives then shoot them...You don't need women's blood to make you look talented."
Welsh cleverly weaves violence and illusion together to gradually force a question into her readers' consciousness: why do people find violence against women "as art" enthralling? While no answer is provided, the awareness of the question adds to the dark seediness and sense of voyeurism present in The Bullet Trick.
Throughout this new offering Wilson suggests that conjurers are god-like on stage:
"Beyond the edge of the stage there was nothing but black punctuated by the candle flames glowing out of the darkness. God looked out into the firmament and saw nothing. Then he snapped his fingers and created the world. I gave the slightest of bows, and got on with it."
Welsh, through continuing mastery of her craft, shows readers that the ability to create worlds is not limited to conjurers.
Her chief protagonist is the cynical Scotsman William Wilson, a down on his luck conjurer, mentalist and illusionist. William is used to life's hard knocks and is currently mired in gambling debts, he has a fondess for heavy drinking, and as we meet him, he is just trying to scrape together enough money to survive in his home town of Glasgow where he's living in a dumpy, ramshakle studio flat near the center of the city.
William seems intent to drink himself to death, favoring pubs with no mission other than to "empty your pockets, fill you full of bile and kick you into the street at closing time." But it is in London toiling through the British comedy circuit - "the warm up for a whole trough of comedians and standups" - where William finds himself doing a magic act in a Soho Night Club owned and operated by petty criminal Bill Noon and his young boyfriend Sam.
Forced by Bill to buy an unfunny string of smutty schoolboy jokes, "that no one finds funny but everyone laughs at," William performs for a macho police crowd celebrating the retirement of Chief Inspector Montgomery, a cop with shady past. Bill would like nothing better than to know what Inspector Mongomery has on his dad. The Chief had also promised to tell Bill the truth about his mother Gloria, gone missing back in 1970, her fate never disovered, although the obvious conclusion is that she is probably dead.
Bill gets William to pick-pocket the Inspector, hoping that an envelope he has in his possession will perhaps hold the key to unlocking the mystery of what really happened to Bill's parents. Suddenly, however, William finds himself stuck with the goods. While Montgomery stands just beyond the door of Bill's office, Sam thrusts the envelope into his hand and William eventually discovers that this vital document - which on a whim he posts to his mother in Scotland - is in fact, going to vastly affect his life, becoming both his insurance and perhaps even the bait to his eventual downfall.
When William's chain-smoking manager Rich offers him a job working as an illusionist at the Schall und Rauch, a rundown theatre in Berlin, William jumps at the offer. And it his here that he meets Sylvie, an American exotic dancer who also becomes his muse and partner in crime, and her friend and father-figure Dix, who is also up to his eyeballs in debt. Both Dix and Sylive ensare William in an implacable web of events that reach far beyond his control.
Meanwhile, Montgomery is out there somewhere, eager to get his hands on the evidence that might damn him. Montgomery eventually follows William to Berlin where the contents of the envelope become responsible for everything horrible that happens to William. William thinks he has ended up committing an act murder, which Montgomoery somehow knows about - just as William knows of his crime. And as the time of reckoning comes, the policeman and the magician square off and find out just how far both are willing to go.
In flashes of the past and a reflective present, William reveals he's a man with a mission. He's the "Prince of Illusion" that has aged into a thirty-three-year-old trickster, "standing before dead-eyed hotel mirrors murmuring the patter beneath his breath." Yet William is still a man who is hungry for applause as he is a master to any deception.
As he schemes and worries, composing new ruses, William guides the audience, forcing them - and us - to glance away from the stage at exactly the right moment. In Sylvie, William recognizes another lonely soul, a kindred spirit thrust into a harsh environment and both are drawn together into a quagmire of moral uncertainty that is inextricably linked to the subculture of strip bars and nightclub acts where the bullet trick, the death-defying illusion destined for their grand finale, is made all too real.
Welsh excels in describing these amoral characters who exist on the fringes of society, often marginalized with no prospects and with very little to lose, and where cheap sex, lots of drugs and violence are part of their lives. Amongst the the hazy disco lights, the cigarette smoke that shelves the air, the rooms that smell of alcohol, testosterone and sweat, here are the policemen, conmen, bent businessmen, strippers and even the illusionists, all too ready to form uneasy alliences where one hand inevitably washes over the other. Mike Leonard October 06.
The story starts in present day Glasgow and travels back and forth in time to Berlin and London narrated by William Wilson, Mentalist and Illusionist, who was
"the warm-up act for a whole trough of comedians and stand ups. The guy nobody came to see."
When his agent sends him to a London club for a gig he somehow gets mixed up in a missing persons mystery, involving the police and blackmail, and where, shortly after, two men are found shot to death, he decides it would be a good idea to disappear and take another job in a cabaret club in Berlin....... but, unfortunately, his troubles have only just begun. As the chapters alternate between the different cities and the different times, I loved the way Louise Welsh built up the suspense, we knew something terrible had happened to William earlier but the clues are slowly dragged out and the story never slows or gets boring.
Even though William is not the most endearing of characters, he drinks too much, smokes too much, and at the beginning of the book he gambles too much, but his witty and dry humour had me laughing out loud a couple of times and I found myself liking him more and more as his life starts to unravel in the darkly gothic world of glamour and magic.
The descriptions of his illusionist acts were fascinating, all the various larger than life characters were well-defined and I was totally engrossed from start to finish.
The protagonist William is a bit dicey but good at the core. There are plenty of shady characters, pub life, and interesting British dialogue (Scottish and English). There's also a lot of info about conjuring and the magician's trade.
As in "..Room", underground entertainment dealing with sex trade is a primal element. Not for the squeamish. After reading "..Room", the whole treatment felt a bit formula in "..Trick". I probably would have given it 5 stars had I read it before "..Room".