Double Review ~ The Houdini Box & Now You See It

The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick

Cover via Goodreads

Victor is forever trying to escape from locked trunks, walk through walls, and perform any number of Houdini’s astonishing magic tricks…without success. Then — amazingly — he actually meets his idol, and begs Houdini to explain himself. A mysterious locked box is the magician’s only answer, and Victor is left to wonder: Does the box contain the secrets to the most famous magic tricks ever performed? (via Goodreads)

Brian Selznick made me cry over my least favorite magician.*

This is the first Brian Selznick book I’ve read. I’ve been strongly encouraged to read Hugo and I will. I will! I swear! I came across The Houdini Box at Open Library and figured I’d give it a no-risk try.

It’s a lovely little book. It’s for kids, but there’s a little something for adults in it as well as a grown up Victor remembers to enjoy the things he did as a child. The illustrations are evocative and humorous. There is obvious love for the subject matter, everything is tinged with just a little bit of fantasy. Maybe I’ll buy this for one of my nephews for Christmas sometime, if they take any inclination toward magic.

* (How can Houdini be my least favorite magician? Strangely, I’ve never been much of a fan. I appreciate his talent, as an escape artist and more so as a self publicist, but there might be two reasons for my…dislike is too strong a word. “Least favorite” is probably too strong too. Let me put it this way: If I were making a list of my top twenty magicians, Houdini would be #20, but he’d never get knocked out of the twentieth spot.

First, I don’t care much for magic that is trumped up as being dangerous. I know that, generally, it’s not. If a magician says, “I’m going to do this very dangerous trick; I could die during it.” The focus is not on the trick, it’s the potential fatality. If a magician let’s me sketch in the amount of danger he or she may be in, just the facts, I’ll probably believe myself more.

Second, I recently realized that I have this awkwardness about Houdini. It comes from, I think, the fact that the initial photos that I saw of Harry Houdini, probably from a fairly general book on magic history written for 8-year-olds, are of him undressed and in chains. I’m not a prude, but it didn’t seem that, as a kid, I should be taking interest in an undressed man in chains! Deep seated, totally irrational; I like Houdini more now that I’ve gotten that out of the way.)

Genre: KitLit
Why did I choose to read this book? It was short, it was free, I hadn’t read any Brian Selznick.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: Take a little license sometimes, when it makes the story better.
Format: Online browser-based scan.
Procurement: Open Library

Now You See It . . . by Richard Matheson

Cover via Goodreads

Maximillian Delacorte was once the world’s greatest stage magician. Now a recluse, suffering from a mysterious disease, he lures his family and associates to his lonely estate for an afternoon of magic, madness, and revenge. Bodies appear and disappear without warning, severed heads speak words of hate, and nothing is ever quite what it appears. As grisly tricks lead to ever more surprising twists, not even the Great Delacorte can tell where illusion ends—and murder begins. (via Goodreads)

Hadn’t realized that this was an Open Library book too. Obviously, I’m availing myself of the service.

I’ve been looking around for other magician novel and I was surprised to find that Richard Matheson had written one. Further, I was intrigued by his concept of a magician’s mystery house–a home, literally, tricked out with secret passages, hidden rooms, and other setups for illusions. I realized that, from my Scooby Doo watching days onward, I’ve unabashedly loved this kind of thing.

Being pretty much a “one-set,” this novel would have made a great William Castle film. It has all the over-the-top ghoulishness and back-stabbing reversals of something like The House on Haunted Hill. Unfortunately, I found the ending really weak. It’s a rather short novel, and it felt like Matheson was under a page count crunch. I wish there had been another fifty pages and a proper ending.

Genre: Mystery
Why did I choose to read this book? Intrigued by a Matheson magician mystery.
Did I finish this book? (If not, why?) Yes.
Craft Lessons: Don’t rush your endings.
Format: Online browser-based scan.
Procurement: Open Library

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