Over the course of the last year, I’ve started reading modern fiction again. I’ve posted a series of reviews of Pullitzer Prize winners, plus a few others that have struck me as particularly good. The last book I finished probably won’t be named alongside among the elite of 20th- and 21st-Century, but I enjoyed it because it deals with an area that has always interested me (magic) and features interesting characters in a fun plot.
In Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold, Charles Carter, one of the young sons of an early 20th Century San Francisco businessman chooses magic over the family business. The story follows him through his apprenticeship, his life over some 20 years, culminating in his apparent involvement in the death of President Warren Harding. A series of rival performers, businessmen, secret service agents and even his own associates complicate things for Carter, in addition to one tragedy that shapes many of his later dealings with choices. When President dies after attending one of Carter’s shows, it sets off a series of events that have been brewing since Carter’s early career.
I would disagree with some of the reviews that claim the book is excellent period fiction, primarily because it is clearly set in the 1910’s and 1920’s, but the time frame doesn’t really drive the story. There are certainly aspects to it, like pirates on the post-war Pacific, the development of television, and the theater circuit that was eventually replaced by motion pictures. I have to disagree with some of the reviews, however, that this is period-driven fiction — the mystery afoot and the characters could very easily have been set any-when and the story would not have suffered.
Overall, I thought the story was entertaining. The language doesn’t try to achieve lyrical poetry, opting instead to roll along. The characters are very interesting and do not rely on stereotypes, and the story moves at a good pace with fun twists that don’t go so far as to be totally implausible. Of course, it probably doesn’t hurt your publishing prospects when you’re married to Alice Siebold, but I think the book should do well and I would recommend it as a light read to anyone who enjoys good fiction.