Glen David Gold. Carter Beats the Devil (2001) 483 pp.
The epic tale of Charles J. Carter, aka “Carter the Great,” a world-famous magician and master illusionist. In 1923, with President Warren G. Harding in attendance, Carter performs his act at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco. A native of San Francisco, this show is a homecoming for Carter and features a daring illusion called “Carter Beats the Devil.” The illusion requires the assistance of an audience member, in this case the president himself (much to the chagrin of the secret service agents assigned to protect him). The illusion—which includes the violent dismemberment of the president by a scimitar-wielding Devil, his remains devoured by a lion, and a miraculous reanimation—is a success. But hours after the show, the president is dead and Carter himself has vanished. Is Carter responsible for the president’s death? Has he murdered him? Has someone else murdered the president? Or is a strange coincidence? Based on the real-life Charles Joseph Carter (1874-1936) and the mysterious circumstances surrounding Harding’s death, this fictionalized account is packed with mind-bending illusions, daring escapes, personal tragedy, rival magicians who will stop at nothing to exact revenge, danger, and redemption.
Setting: San Francisco; Oakland