Page-turner of the week
Lasting fame may have eluded the real Carter the Great, but in Glen David Gold's transmogrification, the prewar illusionist is larger than life. A blur of fact and fiction, sleight-of-hand secrets and crackling intrigue, Gold's first novel opens in 1923, as Carter "kills" President Warren G. Harding in his stage act. Two hours later, the President, who had confided to Carter a "great and terrible secret" that could tear the country apart, suddenly dies.
As Carter is pursued by a motley cast of characters, Gold conjures up his adventurous past. Born into a prominent San Francisco family, Carter discovers a magic book at age 9 while stuck at home during a rare blizzard. His obsession takes him from the ignominy of a ragtag vaudeville tour (traveling with farm animals) to the height of fame (hanging with Harry Houdini), to the edge of the world (attacked by pirates) and back down to earth (nearly bankrupted by his extravagant illusions).
Gold saves his best trick for last. The secret that bedeviled Harding turns out to be, to modern eyes, amusingly mundane. By then the only mystery left is what Gold can do for an encore.
(Hyperion, $24.95) Bottom Line: Mesmerizing