Harry Houdini Mysteries - The Floating Lady Murder Paperback – 24 Feb 2012
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"With great mysteries and enough interesting suspects /characters to keep you wondering who did it, the Harry Houdini Mysteries series is a great set of books." --8 Days a Geek
About the Author
Daniel Stashower is a novelist and magician. His works include: Elephants in the Distance, The Beautiful Cigar Girl, The Ghosts of Baker Street, an anthology of Sherlock Holmes stories, plus the Sherlock Holmes novel, The Ectoplasmic Man.
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The downfall of these novels, alas, is that Stashower’s solutions are, well, let’s say “not up to snuff”. TDMM’s resolution was a cheat (of sorts; read it and find out why...!), but here the sequence of events put together to explain the murder don’t even match the crime as originally described. It’s a bit like Agatha Christie introducing a completely new character just before the Big Reveal who turns out to be the guilty party, or John Dickson Carr not mentioning that there was a wide open window in the fourth, undescribed wall of his locked room – it’s just not done, dammit!
For the manner of their telling alone these books are worth checking out – and I shall be reading more Stashower purely because I love the way he writes – but on the fair-play impossible crime sniff-test they unfortunately score something less than flattering.
Although Harry Houdini enjoyed a short period of notoriety after his adventures in that earlier story, his fame didn't last and he is back to struggling to make a living, never mind his name as an escapologist. Although it isn't quite the break-through he's hoping for, an opportunity for steady and interesting work for Houdini, his wife and his brother appears when Harry Kellar, a world-famous magician, is looking for people to work on his show.
Kellar is working on a new illusion in which he wishes to make a lady float in the air high into the dome of the theatre, and it is thanks to a clever plan by Houdini that a way of achieving this seemingly impossible feat is discovered.
On the first night the act is performed things go horribly wrong though and the beautiful young woman floating more than 70 feet up in the air plummets down to the floor and her death.
What at first appears to be a horrible accident is soon revealed to be a case of murder when it is discovered that the floating lady had water in her lungs; it appears that she managed to drown during her decent.
When one of Kellar's assistants is arrested on suspicion of murdering the woman, Houdini and his brother Dash are convinced that he is innocent and decide, once again, to investigate the case themselves.
The unveiling of the solution to the mystery takes place during a dramatic performance which puts both Houdini and his wife Bess in grave danger.
The story in this book, like its prequel, is narrated by Houdini's brother Dash years after the 1898 setting of the book. And, again like it was in The Dime Museum Murders, this provides the reader with a wonderful point of view. The brothers are very close yet very different. Harry is still very full of himself and convinced that he is on the verge of breaking into fame and fortune while Dash is far more modest, reluctant to throw himself into dangerous pursuits but always close at hand to keep an eye on his two year older yet in many ways more innocent and impulsive, brother. The differences between the two brothers and the ways in which they interact with each other make them believable and fun characters to read about, while Houdini's fascination with Sherlock Holmes provides a more than a few smiles.
The story is filled with fascinating insights into the world of magicians and theatre during the 1890's and it was very interesting to read about the creation of magical tricks we now take for granted.
The theatrical and magical world in which the stories are set also enhances the sense of mystery in the books in this series. Not only are we dealing with murder, we are dealing with seemingly impossible crimes that turn out to have credible yet anything but obvious solutions.
It is clear that the author of these books is himself a magician. He shares enough details and knowledge with the reader to make the setting, the crimes as well as the solutions plausible.
This is also a well written and easy to read book with characters that are interesting and very likeable.
In short, the Harry Houdini Mysteries are wonderful books to spend a relaxing Sunday with.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
That was back in February, 1898. Fame and fortune were years in the future. Dash and Harry audition to be assistants for the internationally renowned magician, Harry Kellar, who has added a caged lion to his act. The audition goes terribly, due to Harry's self-aggrandizing and pomposity. But while he's on stage, a stagehand has an accident and sends scenery flying and crashing: "Everyone in the theater was transfixed by the sight of the dazed figure at the center of the stage, struggling to extricate himself from a tangle of debris. Unfortunately, it was the lion.
Danger, it must be said, always brought out the best in my brother.... But all [his] stunts were carefully controlled and well rehearsed. There had been no rehearsals that day at the Belasco Theater. In the blink of an eye, my brother was suddenly standing nose to nose with an angry lion. The danger had never been so real.
Strange to say, this made my brother extremely happy."
It's a good thing that Dash, Harry, and Bess, Harry's wife, are hired on by Kellar, because there follows a death, and it is impossible.
This is the 2nd of Daniel Stashower's three Harry Houdini mysteries. I enjoyed it even more than the 1st. There is a lot of humor and the tension builds as the stage is set (ahem) for the murder, just like the patter of a magician leading up to the climax of an illusion.
In addition to fun characters, I enjoy the occasional glimpse into how a particular magic trick is performed. You will know what a Pritchard Hole is after reading "The Floating Lady Murder".
Some of the best of Nero Wolfe and Nelson DeMille humorous dialogue (both external and internal) adds to the fun.
Although there is some hints at sexual content, the settings are early 20th century and faithfully follow the social mores of the time. I found that refreshing!