The outrageous and competitive world of Las Vegas magicians is the backdrop for Canadian literary legend Paul Quarrington's novel The Spirit Cabinet
, which centres on a mysterious collection of Harry Houdini's old books and props. At the collection's auction, we're introduced to Rudolfo, a hairless, muscle-bound showman whose flamboyant act, with his partner Jurgen, features garish costumes and exotic live animals (sound familiar?). Jurgen is the magician of the pair, a man whose "skull was square and all of his features oddly rectangular, as though he'd been designed by an architect." Among the other magicians in attendance are Kaz, a bitter egomaniac, and Preston the Adequate, son of the legendary Preston the Magnificent.
Jurgen successfully outbids Kaz for the collection, including the enigmatic Davenport Spirit Cabinet, and slowly falls under its spell. Jurgen's and Rudolfo's act becomes increasingly odd, causing people to wonder if their performance is mere illusion or something more supernatural. The novel throws time away, skipping between the past, present, and future. We follow Jurgen's and Rudolfo's troubled childhoods, their bizarre and shadowy beginnings in show business, and their unlikely ascent to Vegas superstardom. The Spirit Cabinet is a backstage pass into the world of magic, revealing not so much the tricks as the trickery, and the best part is you're laughing with every step. Quarrington is perhaps Canada's finest comic novelist and certainly the most consistently entertaining. --Moe Berg
From Publishers Weekly
Canadian screenwriter (Due South) and award-winning novelist Quarrington (Whale Music) poignantly uses the tacky, tricky background of Las Vegas to tell the story of two magicians who pay the price for a great and dangerous wisdom. German Jurgen Schubert and Swiss Rudolfo Thielmann (think Siegfried & Roy) are sellers of wonder--a flamboyant Vegas magic act, spawned from a seedy club in Munich. At the height of their fame, they pay $4.8 million for the much sought-after Houdini collection, which includes the Davenport Spirit Cabinet and ancient books containing history's greatest magic secrets from all over the world. Labeled showmen, not "real" magicians, by their contemporaries, towering illusionist Jurgen and animal trainer Rudolfo are compared by the World-Famous Kaz to "chimps [who] bought some books about brain surgery." Quarrington reveals the pair, often rude and showy, as having been shaped by the traumas and disappointments of their pasts: Rudolfo was a pathetically lonely child raised in an opium den in Bern, and Jurgen is still desperately trying to prove that real magic exists. Jurgen proclaims to Rudolfo and to sensuous female assistant Miranda, as well as to lovable albino leopard Samson, that he wishes to change their lucrative, successful show by the dark wizardry gleaned from the mysterious teachings of Houdini's dusty books. But Jurgen is seduced into another world through the creepy doors of the Spirit Cabinet, and a story that begins as an entertaining lark--uneven yet humorous--ends up tender and heartbreaking. As Jurgen becomes more deeply involved with his supernatural metamorphosis, he becomes Christ-like, levitating and performing miracles while he drifts irreversibly away from Rudolfo, his life partner. Quarrington gathers most of Vegas to see the duo's final act, powerfully blending tears with philosophical enlightenment in a novel to be treasured, even by those who don't believe in magic. (Apr.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.