It’s not often a review of a novel appears 15 years after the book was published. So, I was surprised and delighted to be sent a link to a wonderful (if very belated) write-up for The Houdini Girl by the highly respected and influential publisher, Scott Pack – a former buying manager at Waterstones who, in more recent years, has been heading up HarperCollins’ innovative imprint, The Friday Project.
Pack posted the review today on his blog, Me and My Big Mouth. I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting it in full, below:
Now You See Her
Years ago, before Amazon became the embodiment of evil to many, it was a site that mainly sold books and spent a lot of time and energy offering editorial content around the subject of books. There were editors’ picks and debuts to watch and well-known authors selecting their favourites and there was always a very good end of year round up put together by the various people behind the scenes. I am talking Amazon US here, the UK site back then was still pretty basic.
Anyway, towards the end of 1998 I bought a number of books based on the Amazon.com Best of the Year selection and pretty much all of them turned out to be wonderful. Tipping the Velvet is the one I tackled first, as I recall, but there was also An Ocean in Iowa by Peter Hedges, The Walled Orchard by Tom Holt and Memoirs of a Geisha as well as a few others that slip my mind right now. But there was one book I bought at that time, also part of that Best of the Year list, that I have only just got round to reading. I have no idea why I left it so long, the fact that I have too many bloody books probably has something to do with it, but I was wrong to do so. It has proved to be every bit as good as the others from that vintage year.
The Houdini Girl by Martyn Bedford is, I suppose, a mystery novel. One with added magic tricks. Fletcher Brandon, otherwise known as Peter Prestige, is a professional magician who enjoys a whirlwind romance with Rosa after he impresses her with a trick while at a pub with mutual friends. She moves in to his apartment that night, and proves to be a slightly crazy Betty Blue type character but the sex is amazing so Fletcher doesn’t care so much about her wild temper. Their relationship is tempestuous and, as it turns out, rather brief. One year after moving in Rosa dies after falling from a train. And that’s when the mysteries start to pile up. Why was Rosa was on a train from Oxford to Reading when she should have been at work? How come the version of her childhood she had told to Fletcher fails to match up with the one the police quickly unearth? And who has sent him Rosa’s missing bag containing a fake passport and a plane ticket to Amsterdam?
If you like a good thriller but want to avoid the usual police procedural or private eye stories then this is a refreshingly different spin. You also get the lowdown, but not the secrets, behind lots of magic tricks. You are genuinely kept guessing until the end and there are plenty of twists and teasing reveals as you go along. It is also fascinating to read a novel, especially a mystery novel, written just before the age of the internet and mobile phones. The Houdini Girl would not work if set in the present day because many of the plot points and problems Fletcher enounters would be easily resolved with a quick Google search or mobile phone call and while that clearly dates the novel it also adds a certain charm and integrity.
I thought this was lots of fun and, as they say, a real pageturner. One of the most enjoyable novels I have read this year. Sadly it is now out of print, which is a real shame as if this was published today social media would be all abuzz with it, so I can’t suggest you pop to your local bookshop to buy it but there are secondhand copies available online and it is available as an ebook.