“Richly lyrical and thought-provoking” (Publishers Weekly, starred review), this “stellar debut from a novelist to watch” (Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize winning author) explores the passionate marriage of Harry Houdini and his wife, Bess—a love story that defied death itself.
Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife, Bess, from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. But when a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.
In surprising turns that weave through the uncertain days of the dawn of the twentieth century and continue into the dazzling 1920s, Mrs. Houdini is a “dazzling and enchanting” (Shelf Awareness, starred review) tale, “a marvel that gallops through time and space” (Associated Press), and a “mesmerizing reimagining” (People) of one of history’s greatest love stories.
Poet Kelly's splendid debut novel is about Bess, the wife of Harry Houdini, and explores the human longing "to know what is beyond" (to quote Harry) as well as the bittersweet gifts of love. After Harry dies suddenly in 1926, Bess must reimagine her existence without its star player, cope with his debts, and fulfill a private mission. Though his lengthy investigations of spiritualism disproved its claims, Harry has promised Bess that he will contact her after death through codes only she can know. Hungry to reconnect with him, Bess suffers crushing disappointments before glimpsing one code in a photograph by newspaperman Charles Radley. When she meets the young photographer in Atlantic City, more coded messages appear in his work; as they seek explanations together, the pair journey through Bess's deepest wounds, Houdini's secrets, and life's most enduring mysteries. Kelly vividly captures the Houdinis' public rise, from their impoverished beginnings in Coney Island to worldwide celebrity, and private lives shaped by a deep marital bond, childlessness, and the death of Houdini's beloved mother, which fueled his obsession with the afterlife. Moving effortlessly beyond mere fictionalized biography, Kelly delivers a richly lyrical and thought-provoking novel with closing twists that feel as impossible, inevitable, and satisfying as magical, in short as one of Houdini's own illusions.