cover image The Magician’s Lie

The Magician’s Lie

Greer Macallister. Sourcebooks Landmark, $23.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4022-9868-4

This well-paced, evocative, and adventurous historical novel from Macallister, a poet and short story writer, chronicles the career of America’s preeminent female stage illusionist at the turn of the 20th century, who, as the Amazing Arden, created the lurid, controversial stage act known as the Halved Man. When Arden’s husband is found murdered following her performance in Waterloo, Iowa, she falls under suspicion, particularly after she goes on the lam. Later the same night, officer Virgil Holt, en route to his home in the nearby town of Janesville, nabs Arden and charges her with her husband’s murder. Holt escorts her to his office where she maintains her innocence and urges him to release her. The skeptical Holt compels Arden to relate her life’s story, from her birth as Ada Bates in Philadelphia to her growing up on a Tennessee farm. And so the tale begins, as Arden describes learning to dance and fearing her older cousin Ray, who self-mutilates and fancies himself a magical healer. Arden hires on as a laundress at the Vanderbilts’ Biltmore estate in North Carolina, where she befriends the gardener, Clyde Garber, and they run away to New York City. She begins work as a chorine before entering the magic business under the tutelage of the crusty, colorful Adelaide Herrmann. After Adelaide retires, Arden takes over the traveling magic show. She again crosses paths with Ray to set in motion the violent conclusion, bringing Arden’s rollicking life full circle and satisfyingly capping off this top-notch novel. Agent: Elizabeth Weed, Weed Literary. (Jan.)