Read for the Historical Fiction and TBR Lite 2010 Reading Challenges.
Carter Beats the Devil is set in the early 1920s, in the golden age of magic, when magicians such as Houdini ruled the stage. The story is a novelization of the life of Charles Carter, an actual magician from this period, but appears to have little to do with the real magician’s life.
The story opens with Carter performing in San Francisco, at the same time that President Warren G. Harding was traveling the country and had stopped in the city. Carter invites the president to take the stage with him, and the show is a rousing success. The president appears to have a smashingly good time, but later that night, has a sudden heart attack, and dies (the fact of Harding’s death is true). Carter is immediately suspected, and Secret Service Agent Jack Griffin begins to investigate him.
From here, the story journeys back to Carter’s first encounter with magic as a boy, and life on the vaudeville circuit, where he meets and marries a woman named Sarah Annabelle. Sarah is tragically killed, and Carter’s future actions are shaped by her death.
Back to the present day of the story, and with Griffin hot on his tail, Carter meets up a with a number of true historical figures, including Houdini, Max Friz, the founder of BMW, and Philo Farnsworth, the inventor of television. All of these people contribute to the eventual happy ending, and the revelation of who really killed President Harding.
This is a great book. It has a lovely air of authenticity about it, and the action moves along with some great twists and turns. It’ll pull you along for the ride, and you’ll be very satisfied when you get to the end.