Friday, 30 June 2017
The Vanished Man by Jeffrey Deaver
[The hunted criminal is talking to investigator Lincoln Rhymes]
The Conjurer whispered. ‘There’s a trick called the Burning Mirror. My favourite. It starts out with a vain illusionist looking in a mirror. He sees a beautiful woman on the other side of the glass. She beckons to him and finally he gives in to temptation and steps through. The woman’s now on the front side of the mirror. But there’s a puff of smoke and she does a quick change and becomes Satan.
‘Now the illusionist is trapped in hell, chained to the floor. Flames begin shooting up from the floor around him. A wall of fire moves closer. Just as he’s about to be engulfed by flames he gets out of the chains and leaps through the fire at the back of the mirror to safety. The devil runs toward the illusionist, flies into the air and vanishes. The illusionist shatters the mirror with a hammer. Then he walks across the stage, pauses and snaps his fingers. There’s a flash of light and, you’ve probably guessed, he becomes the devil… The audience loves it…’
commentary: My good friend Bill Selnes, of the estimable Mysteries and More blog, recommended this one to me: he correctly guessed that I would love the many clothes that feature in the book, and the fact that quick changes, disguises, and the invisibility of a man in uniform would all be major features of the book.
It’s part of a series of books – the first one was The Bone Collector, also made into a film – about Lincoln Rhymes: a top NY investigator, paralyzed in a work incident, now surrounded by a team of friends and colleagues, and still helping to solve crimes despite his disability. (I couldn’t tell whether he was still on the force, or in a consultant role.) He specializes in detailed analysis of physical evidence, and is also brilliantly clever at trying to out-think the criminal.
This time he is chasing a killer who seems to be following a clear trail, but one that is hard to predict from outside. He is, it quickly becomes apparent, a hugely-talented illusionist, with hundreds of tricks at his fingertips. He uses these in quick succession to target his victims, and then to escape – even if he has been captured. This element of the plot is hugely inventive and imaginative – the reader is breathless from the endless list of different tricks and layers of deception.
I am always pulled in by magic and illusionists, and I absolutely loved reading about the ways magic tricks and shows are constructed. Rhymes recruits a young woman illusionist, Kara, to help them in the search, and her parts of the story are the most interesting.
The book constantly turns the tables, from both criminal and sleuth’s points of view – you end up not believing anything you read. There are tense chases and violent incidents. If the criminal is on the point of being captured/killed halfway through a book – then you do know that isn’t going to happen right now. But Deaver certainly keeps up the interest, and just when you think you are one step ahead, you find you aren’t.
And the costumes and quick changes are, as Bill promised, riveting.
I don’t know if I would read more of this series (Deaver has written SO MANY books, it is quite off-putting) but I certainly loved this one.
You can find more evidence for my fascination with magic and illusions elsewhere on the blog.
Elly Griffiths Mephisto books feature an illusionist to great effect, and have featured some fine pictures of magic posters – see here and here. And then there is The Prestige by Christopher Priest (also a fine film) – another blogpost, and more great advertising images.
I did a couple of entries on Glenn David Gold’s marvellous Carter Beats the Devil – a great book about a magician – a few years back, see here, but obviously hadn’t managed to source good posters back then…
Top magician’s poster from the NYPL.
B/w pictures, also NYPL, show a New York theatrical production from 1974, called The Magic Show.
And then one more rather marvellous theatrical poster. There are SUCH wonderful magician posters on the internet…