About this book: (from the publisher) The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.
But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless-and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.
About the author: (from her website) Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review, The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family on the East Coast. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a weekly or monthly pick by Indie Next, LibraryReads, People Magazine, SheReads, PopSugar, Publishers Weekly, the Boston Globe, and Audible.com.
Why I read this book: As a She Reads reviewer, I chose it (one of their four Books of Winter) because I was intrigued by its title, cover, and premise.
First impressions: Gorgeous, mysterious cover; compelling beginning.
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for realistic violence and sexual relationships.
Reminds me of…The Magician’s Assistant (contemporary women’s fiction) by Ann Patchett
My take: This was one of those novels that released to a great deal of fanfare and rave reviews, which can do very good things for a book, but has a downside: it sets expectations very, very high. Mine certainly were. Things got off to a promising start, with a ripping good lead-in to the story. I liked the story embedded within the story, and the “ticking clock” set-up. It certainly lent Arden’s tale, as it unfolded, a sense of urgency.
But then my interest waned. There was something lacking, that nearly indefinable something that either makes or breaks a reader’s experience. As near as I can identify it, it was the style, which felt too telling in the flashback scenes. This may have been because there was so much ground to cover in so little time (it makes up the bulk of the book). I enjoyed the “real-time” scenes between Arden and Virgil much more. Then too, the characters, especially the villain, felt a shade too one-dimensional, and some of his story a little too horrific. I did, however, like the complexity of Arden’s character, and Virgil’s, and the way his own history was gradually revealed (and which also provided some unexpected twists).
So in the end, I didn’t enjoy this one as much as hoped, but I did find it an interesting idea, and I liked the exploration of magic as a profession at the turn of the last century. Many will find it a worthwhile read for that reason alone.
Thanks to She Reads and Sourcebooks for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
One more thing. I can’t leave this book without commenting on the cover. I know, I sometimes seem fixated on covers, but they’re an important part of the reading experience, especially as a first impression. As I mentioned earlier, I really liked this cover; it was part of what drew me to this book. But here’s what’s weird: the arm attached to the hand holding the dove? It’s dark-skinned (in marked contrast to the hand, even), and there are no dark-skinned main characters in this book. It’s certainly not the Amazing Arden, who is described as quite fair. So I’m baffled as to why the publisher used this image here. Not that you’ll have an explanation, but thoughts, anyone?