Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel tracks Houdini's assistant in a world of misdirection, suspense, and forgotten pasts to remind us that not all illusions happen on the stage.
Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor's death, intent on burying her true identity.
But when a rival performer's act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth--and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI's investigation. All the while Houdini's words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it's what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface--and shatter her carefully controlled world.
Historical fiction with a dash of suspenseStand-alone novelBook length: 99,000 wordsIncludes discussion questions for book clubs
Cambron (Butterfly and the Violin) brilliantly weaves a tale of intrigue and history, using Houdini's disdain for debates about magic vs. illusion as her premise. Stapleton, a vaudeville performer, debunked by Houdini as a fraud several years earlier, decides to restore his reputation by publicly bringing a man back to life 20 years after the man's death. The performance, which takes place in the months after Houdini's own death, is attended by Jenny "Wren" Lockhart, Houdini's trusted apprentice and prot g . Stapleton summons the man to rise from the coffin, but shortly after he rises, before he is able to speak, the man promptly keels over dead again. In the background watching this incident stand FBI agent Elliott Matthews and the wealthy widow Amber Dover, a colorful character who married into society but comes from a vaudeville background. Suspicious of both Wren and Amber, Elliott's instincts lead him to investigate their potential involvement in the bizarre resurrection and potential murder. Wren unwittingly becomes entwined with FBI agent Elliot, initially to solve the case of what exactly happened to the "dead" man but eventually to pursue her budding affection for Elliot. Cambron's lithe prose pulls together past and present and her attention to historical detail grounds the narrative to the last breathtaking moments.
A 2017 Book Club Top Pick
Kristy Cambron is a remarkable author with a unique voice. Ever since her debut novel The Butterfly and the Violin (2014), I've impatiently awaited each subsequent release. While I was initially intrigued by the synopsis of The Illusionist's Apprentice, I questioned how Harry Houdini and magic would play out in a Christian novel. With Cambron at the keys...the answer is impeccably well!
It's important to begin by stating the author draws a clear line between mysticism or spiritualists and the art of illusion for the purpose of entertainment. Prior to reading this story I was unaware of how Houdini worked to discredit many such frauds during his lifetime. This bit of history provides a fantastic springboard for Wren's character, a former apprentice to Houdini, who’s called upon by Agent Elliot Matthews to assist in a suspense-filled investigation of a magic act turned murderous.
As the mystery unraveled, I was irresistibly drawn to these characters and their lives. Particularly Wren, who is so delightfully complex. Over time, glimpses into Wren’s past provide insight as to why she is so guarded, contemplative, and secretive (beyond what her profession would require). The more I learned, the more I championed Elliot’s efforts to breach her defenses. The way their relationship teeters between tenuous and tender keeps readers on their toes.
In reading this story you surrender yourself to Kristy Cambron’s lavish depictions of a bygone era. With it’s clever characters and intricate plot, the The Illusionist’s Apprentice has become my second Book Club Top Pick of 2017.
With thanks to the author/publisher for providing me with a review copy. All opinions are my own.
Not what I expected!
The Illusionist’s Apprentice is the latest novel by Kristy Cambron. It is December 31, 1926 in Boston, Massachusetts. Agent Elliot Matthews and his partner, Agent Connor Finnegan are standing in Mount Auburn Cemetery waiting for Horace Stapleton to start his show. He is having a Defy Death in Public Ceremony. Stapleton is going to resurrect Victor Peale from the grave. Agents Matthews and Finnegan are there to observe. Matthews notices a woman wearing a bright red cape standing in the background. Matthews is intrigued by her appearance. The lady is clad in gentleman’s clothing. Matthews finds out that she is illusionist, Wren Lockhart. Wren worked with Harry Houdini before he passed away. Before Matthews can approach Wren, Stapleton’s show begins. The coffin is opened and a doctor confirms that the man inside is indeed deceased. Amberley Dover, a rich widow, joins in on the show. Victor Peale then rises from his coffin walks across the stage and collapses. Victor Peale is dead and Stapleton is under arrest. Stapleton refuses to talk and Matthews needs an illusionist help to unravel this case. Agent Matthews approaches Wren and asks for her assistance. Wren is reluctant to agree. She does not want anyone invading her privacy and discovering her secrets. Matthews, though, is determined and finally gets Wren to consent to assist the FBI. It is soon apparent that someone is out to eliminate Wren, and Matthews has his hands full keeping her safe. Why is this person out for Wren? For magic, mayhem and murder, read The Illusionist’s Apprentice.
The Illusionist’s Apprentice sounded like such an intriguing book with illusions, magic, vaudeville, and a mystery. I found the pace to be catatonic. I had a difficult time reading this tome. Wren is a difficult character to like. She is extremely determined to keep her private life a secret (her reasoning is lacking). Wren is stubborn, determined, distant, and frustrating. The conversations between the Agent Matthews and Wren just kept going around in circles. They are exasperating to read (I was irritated). The author did a good job at capturing the time and place. I enjoyed the details provided on the illusions (what there was). I wanted more magic and illusions (escaping from handcuffs is an easy illusion to figure out). I was hoping Wren would be a more outgoing, gregarious character. Her costumes are outlandish, but they are just a disguise to keep people from looking deeper (like Agent Matthews). I give The Illusionist’s Apprentice 3 out of 5 stars (okay, but not for me). The mystery that the author created was very convoluted, but with an obvious solution (you have to piece together the clues and the solution will pop out at you). I think that most readers, though, will not guess the culprit’s identity. The “investigation” was lacking. Agent Matthews said he needed Wren’s help with the case, but I saw little examination of evidence. The story starts in the present and then it goes back in time. Every other chapter takes the reader back in time to another piece of Wren’s history. The reader is given another tidbit on Wren’s background. While the information is helpful on Wren, it makes it difficult to get into the story (at least for me). The romance between the characters (Wren and Matthews as well as Connor Finnegan and Amberley Dover) was very much in the foreground and the ending was inevitable.