The artfulness of 'Carter Beats the Devil' rests both in Gold's ability to unfurl a story before our eyes and in his crackerjack skill at recapturing a lost era. Gold takes us from Charles Carter's first magic show (performed for a household servant during the great San Francisco blizzard of 1897, when 9-year-old Charles and his younger brother James find themselves snowbound in their home with no parental supervision) to a thrilling conclusion, set in 1923, in which Carter delivers the greatest performance of his life … Gold's smartest feat may be the way, page by page, he fleshes out the character of Carter. Remote, mysterious and preternaturally lonely, Carter is the toughest kind of character for a writer to get a handle on...By the end of the book, Carter, a man who lives his life in the shadow of illusion, is nothing less than vivid and perfectly rounded to us.
Materializing out of nowhere with a flash and a puff of smoke, it is one of the most entertaining appearing acts of recent years … Glen David Gold's fearless embroidery of history continues for the balance of his five-hundred-page novel: President Harding's special guest appearance is only the first in a string of cameos that includes the Marx Brothers (not quite ready for prime time, they appear in the comedy sketch ‘Fun in Hi Skule’) and the Great Houdini himself. With its blend of actual figures and improbable conspiracies, the book is a younger cousin of E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime—a hyperactive younger cousin, running off at the mouth and happily out of control.
Gold's real aim is to recapture the lost era of the great illusionists and escapologists, of Houdini, Thurston and Devant, to evoke the time when audiences believed what they saw; a time when real magic was somehow possible and its prime purveyors were among the most famous people on earth. And his plot — garish, crude, infernally clever — is precisely honed to the task: it is a triumph of misdirection, a nest of boxes constantly springing fresh surprises … This is the most exuberant stew of a novel: strange, tasty, addictive. Do we ever know its central protagonist, the man who called himself Carter the Great? No, not quite; but then, he was a man of mystery when two dollars bought you an evening of miracles.