cover image Escapade


Walter Satterthwait. St. Martin's Press, $22.95 (355pp) ISBN 978-0-312-13068-8

Can mystery be far behind when Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle meet? Satterthwait (The Hanged Man) offers up a delightful locked-room caper enlivened by Houdini's ego and Doyle's decency and narrated by Phil Beaumont, a Pinkerton agent hired as bodyguard after Houdini is threatened by a rival magician. Invited during the summer of 1921 to attend a seance at Maplewhite, the home of Robert, Lord Purleigh, the threesome of Houdini, Doyle and Beaumont becomes involved in ghost sightings, attempted murders and the apparent suicide of the Earl of Axminster. The supporting cast keeps the pace brisk. Lord Bob is the model of a blustery English lord (though he calls himself a ``democrat''); his daughter, Cecily, insists she is not a nymphomaniac, but slimy Sir David Merridale would love to prove her wrong. Central is Jane Turner, who sees ghosts and discovers key evidence in the death of the Earl--all while someone may be trying to kill her. One of the most appealing characters is the Shakespeare-quoting Inspector Marsh, whose perpetual amusement accelerates the last third of this already fast-paced book in which reason and chic spiritualism vie for supremacy. (Aug.)