Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Review: "Carter Beats the Devil" by Glen David Gold

I just do not think that Glen David Gold is meant to write long, epic books about the early 20th century, or long books period, after reading his most famous book, Carter Beats the Devi. He tries channeling the kinds of long, mammoth slices of Americana that have been successfully rendered elsewhere, with, at least for this reader, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day being a benchmark for those kind of books in modern times. He is not bad per se. In small, 50 or 100 page chunks, he is very good, even great. He is able to hold your attention and dazzle you with his mastery when he focuses on one thing, and only one thing. When he starts adding new plots and characters to his novels, you begin to see where his problems are. Those problems are what made his follow-up novel, Sunnyside, such a drag at 675 pages, but this novel, shorter only by about 10 pages, is at least better than that. We start out in 1925, where President Warren G Harding is attending a magic show hosted by famous magician Carter the Great. After a rousing trick (whose title is where the book’s comes from) where Harding is thought to have been eaten by a lion, the president goes back to his hotel room and dies hours later. Suddenly, the secret service want Carter’s head, and Carter himself was told a secret by Harding, and like any good magician, he is not giving it up that easily. The first hundred pages of this book are top-notch, where we see the night in question in great detail, than flashback to Carter’s childhood and find out what got him into magic, which involves him and his brother James ending up in the clutches of a monstrous groundkeeper at their house, with heartbreaking results. But the last hundred pages are serious slog, even with all the death, fights and electrocution. If this book got cut in half, it would be great, but I guess bigger books are just more impressive.
Rating: 4/5

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