Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire by Simon Nicholson

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Young Houdini: The Magician's Fire by Simon Nicholson

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Linda Lawlor
Reviewed by Linda Lawlor
Summary: Most people know about Houdini's adult life. But how might a penniless urchin have started on the road to fame as an escapologist? A thrilling tale of dastardly criminals, stage magicians and the demands of true friendship.
Buy? yes Borrow? yes
Pages: 240 Date: February 2015
Publisher: OUP Oxford
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9780192734747

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As it happens, several facts about the childhood of the man who became world famous for his daring stunts and death-defying shows have been recorded. But fiction is the world of what-if, where anything can be imagined, anything can happen. So what if all those 'facts' were actually a cover, made up to conceal Houdini's earliest exploits? What if, as a boy, he ended up far away from his family and his native Hungary and all alone in New York, having to earn a few meagre pennies each day by shining shoes? And what if his fascination with theatre life led him into dangers even greater than anything he was able to create in his later stage act? Magicians learn their trade by closely observing the experts. In this story, the first in a series about the imagined youth of the man who would one day adopt the stage name Houdini, our hero spends his days earning a few paltry coins for his food and a bed in a leaky attic. He is already skilled in certain tricks, practising them with a single-minded determination until he can escape from train tracks and locked boxes, and thereby earn a little more money, and his reputation is growing. His two friends Billie and Arthur support him any way they can with research and ideas, and the three lonely young people feel they are united by the closest of bonds.

Harry and his friends pass their evenings at the local theatre whenever they can scrounge tickets, watching the nightly performance of the illusionist Herbie Lemster. How does their elderly friend distract the attention of the audience, direct their eyes anywhere but towards the quick flick of the hand or the twitch of the pocket which will cause everyone to gasp in surprise and admiration? How does he manage to float above a bed of vicious spikes without any apparent support? But as this adventure opens it is clear something is worrying Herbie, and a magician who doesn't concentrate is likely to hurt himself, or worse. And then Herbie is kidnapped, and no one, even the observant Harry, can work out how it was done – or why.

Harry is a hero in the traditional mould: intelligent, daring, willing to risk all for his friend. He puts himself in danger and runs terrible risks in his headlong dash across the city in pursuit of leads, and only his nimble fingers and his quick wits save him time and time again from death or crippling injury. But like many a hero Harry has a fault. He takes the whole responsibility for Herbie's rescue upon himself, and the same single-minded determination which will make him such a skilled performer comes close to causing his downfall. Readers will like Harry, and admire him, but they will also occasionally want to shake him till his teeth rattle for his blinkered attitudes. Like in real life, you don't have to be perfect to be a champion.

This is a rattling good yarn, and although it ends on the dreaded words to be continued, the first adventure is satisfyingly completed. A good read for those who enjoy finding out about other times and places, and how some of those wonderful tricks and illusions are actually carried out.

If readers enjoy adventure and detection with a spot of history thrown in, they'll love Slightly Jones Mystery: The Case of the Glasgow Ghoul by Joan Lennon and The Case of the Hidden City by the same author. Or, for some rip-roaring, Wild West style excitement, try The P K Pinkerton Mysteries: The Case of the Good-looking Corpse by Caroline Lawrence. Mysteries galore!

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