On New Year’s Eve in 1926, a medium in Massachusetts advertises that he will raise a man from the dead. Though someone does rise from the newly unearthed coffin, he immediately falls down dead. The FBI treat the case as a homicide, and their investigation takes them to other vaudevillian performers, particularly Wren Lockhart. Wren is an illusionist who apprenticed under Harry Houdini. But interest in her goes beyond her stage work: the dead man had the name of Jennifer Charles in his vest pocket, Wren’s real name which she has tried to keep buried. FBI agent Elliot Matthews works with Wren to gain more information helpful to the case, but Wren reveals as little as possible, wary of bringing her past to light.
When Wren and Agent Matthews are chased and shot at in a car, the case expands from the one magic trick gone wrong on New Year’s Eve. Is someone after Wren to gain Houdini’s secrets? Or is someone wreaking revenge for the part Houdini and Wren played in debunking a medium’s claims? Or has someone uncovered Wren’s carefully buried secrets?
The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron kept me on the edge of my seat with multiple twists and turns and the revelation of new information along the way. Wren’s history is told in flashbacks which jumped around to different parts of her life. They could have been confusing, but I made it a point to look at the date beginning every chapter to try to keep on track.
Besides the mystery and suspense elements, I loved Wren’s development through the story as she slowly learns to trust Matthews. I also enjoyed that there were several layers to the story. The faith element first shows up in Wren’s insistence that only one man ever raised anyone from the dead and that her profession wasn’t magic but illusion. After that her faith is more undercurrent than overt, but its expression becomes more vivid near the end.
One of my favorite quotes from the book:
There cannot be dark without the light that will overcome it. Whatever darkness there is, God’s light shines brighter. It has to. He’s the Hero in every story–especially this one.
Kristy’s first two books were set during WWII, the third one took place in a circus, and now this one centers around illusionists and vaudeville. Though I also enjoy authors who write in particular time eras or niches, I love that Kristy’s subject matter is unexpected and often largely unexplored until now.