Thursday, July 09, 2009

Literary Misdirection

Review: Carter Beats the Devil

This book can be summed up in one sentence: An excellent example of using the art of misdirection in a literary setting.

There's more to it than that, of course. The book is full of rich historical detail, plenty of cameos (and starring roles) by important historical figures, and just enough action. The characters feel fully fleshed out, the historical speculations at least plausible, and the action unforced.

But the best part is the use of misdirection. While Glen David Gold is not as skilled as some other authors (say, Gene Wolfe - no relation), his writing chops are solid, and nothing in the book feels forced. However, there's no need to compare him to other authors, as Gold's purpose is different. Gene Wolfe relies on unreliable narrators who have a vested interest in focusing your attention on details that distract you from what's really going on behind the scenes. Glen David Gold has the same purpose as the stage magicians he's writing about: To entertain you.

If I have any complaints about the book, there would be only one (and its a small one). One running joke/bit of misdirection in the book deals with heavily implying Harry Houdini was gay. The book never states this right out, and it's treated so lightly and offhandedly, I can only imagine the author meant it as a throw-away gag rather than serious historical speculation. It does feel a little forced, but it's such a minor point in an otherwise excellent novel I feel guilty even giving it this much space. But I guess even a positive review needs some balance.

You'll notice I haven't even mentioned the basic plot. I don't think I could do it justice in a brief blog review, and the plot is a little beside the point. In fact, the plot itself is the best use of misdirection in the book.

1 comment:

Friar Tuck said...

Sounds interesting. Wish I could get more into fiction.