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Houdini's Last Illusion
Steve Savile
Telos paperback £7.99

review by Mario Guslandi

In Detroit, year 1926, the famous magician Harry Houdini is at the peak of his success. Known all over the world, he provides people with what they desire most, a bit of magic in their dull life. Houdini is able to perform extraordinary deeds such as to dive in the Seine tightly handcuffed only to burst a few minutes later on the surface, swimming freely, or to escape from a security cell where he has been imprisoned without tools. He can achieve all that thanks to one simple trick - summarised in his personal motto: "My mind is the key that sets me free."

In spite of his successful career, the audience's applause, the world's recognition, Houdini remains a lonely and melancholy person, an Hungarian immigrant named Erich Weiss, a loner whom even his loving wife Bessy can't completely understand. And, in Detroit, Houdini finds himself impossibly hunted and haunted by a bunch of great illusionists from the past that want him dead. A séance in the house of a famous spiritualist (partly a faker, but not quite) will further increase Houdini's misgivings. So, before he dies, he gets himself ready for the final, greatest trick of his whole career, the last, ultimate illusion.

I won't give away the ending, which, believe me, is up to the expectations created by this delightful novelette, already a winner of the 'Writers of the Future' competition under the title Bury My Heart At The Garrick. I already knew of Steve Savile as an editor, but I wasn't familiar with his work as an author before getting this little gem. He's a writer capable of demanding the reader's attention from the very first sentence (The magician stared at the mismatched pair of gloves in his hands) and, what is even more difficult, of maintaining the necessary suspension of disbelief throughout the story.

His writing style is elegant but essential, smooth but poignant. Houdini's character, apparently so detached and aloof, actually tainted by a touch of gloom and loneliness, a sense of pity for himself, the human condition and life seen as a perennial illusion, is described by Savile with uncommon craftsmanship. I urge you to buy a copy of the book: you'll discover than even fiction, like the tricks performed by a skilled illusionist, can be magic.
Houdini's Last Illusion

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