A casual glance out his apartment window turns Magician Eli Marks’ life upside down. After spotting a dead body in the projection booth of the movie theater next door, Eli is pulled into the hunt for the killer. As he attempts to puzzle out a solution to this classic locked room mystery, he must deal with a crisis of a more personal nature: the appearance of a rival magician who threatens not only Eli’s faith in himself as a performer, but his relationship with his girlfriend.
But the killer won’t wait and starts taking homicidal steps to bring Eli’s investigation to a quick and decisive end. Things get even worse when his magician rival offers his own plausible solution to the mystery. With all the oddball suspects gathered together, Eli must unveil the secrets to this movie-geek whodunit or find himself at the wrong end of the trick.
“I’m a hack.”
Holy crap, did I say that out loud? My intention had been to whisper those three words silently to myself, but apparently my brain hadn’t properly communicated that goal to my mouth. Consequently, I must have said it out loud, if the stern look from the lady in front of me was any indication. I put a hand over my mouth and cleared my throat, trying and failing to give the impression I had simply coughed. I turned to my right and recognized a puzzled look from Megan.
“Are you okay?” she whispered, effortlessly speaking at the appropriate volume.
I nodded without conviction and returned my attention to the performer who had inspired this brutal self-assessment.
His name was Quinton Moon and he was killing me.
Quinton was awesome, and not in the flawed and grossly overused current use of the expression. He inspired awe. I was in awe. He awed me, which is no small feat, particularly since we are both magicians. I’ve seen plenty of magicians in my lifetime. But not one like Quinton Moon.
I had resisted when my Uncle Harry had offered us the tickets because, as a magician, I can honestly say that I may have already seen enough magicians in my lifetime. But Harry had wisely made the offer in the presence of Megan. He had also suggested we dine at Christos in the Union Depot in downtown St. Paul as part of our evening out and before I knew it my fate was sealed. Parking was the usual downtown St. Paul nightmare scenario, but dinner was delightful, the hummus to die for and the wine and the conversation flowed. For a while I almost forgot that my primary goal this evening was to see, of all things, a magician.
Megan declared our walk from dinner to the St. Paul Hotel was a “winter wonderland romp,” but in reality it was a wet slog through yet another in a series of recent snowfalls. None of the merchants had shoveled and the snowplows had not effectively cleared the streets from the last dusting of snow, so crossing at each intersection became a high-tension thriller all its own. By the time we made it to the classic hotel’s ornate lobby, my shoes were soaking, my feet were freezing and my mood was grim. For her part, though, Megan couldn’t have been bubblier.
“This is going to be fun,” she gushed as we were directed to the single elevator which offered access to the top floor suite.
“You remember we’re seeing a magician, right?” I asked as the doors slid shut.
An hour later, my shoes were dry, my feet were warm and I had been transported to a Victorian drawing room and a performance of chamber magic that would, in many ways, change my life.
Quinton Moon appeared as if he had stepped directly out of the pages of a Jules Verne novel. Thick sideburns framed a ruggedly handsome face with piercing green eyes and a warm and inviting smile. It was hard not to like him immediately, but I will say I gave it a valiant effort. He greeted each guest as they arrived, ushering us to our seats while keeping up a steady patter about the room’s history, the night and the snow which continued to gather on the leaded glass windowsills.
The living room of the suite was set with about thirty chairs, all facing the front of the room. The majority of the audience was better dressed than I was, with several gentlemen even sporting tuxes. For his part, Quinton wore a tailored coat, which he removed at the top of the show, revealing a tastefully colorful vest and cummerbund combination.
He was an effortless performer, but I understand enough about the trade to know you only get that relaxed on stage if you’ve really done your homework off-stage. The 70-minute show was an even mix of illusions I’d seen a thousand times before and tricks I was witnessing for the first time. But in Quinton’s hands, even the most clichéd illusions sported a brand new shimmer and shine. Hoary old chestnuts, like The Linking Rings and The Miser’s Dream–tricks which are staples of kids’ birthday parties, for God’s sake—took on an entirely new flavor in his hands and I watched them all as if for the first time.
The breaking point for me came when he did a seven-minute routine using thimbles. Thimbles! He actually did a routine with thimbles that not only held my attention but transported me. I was transfixed, and my amazement and self-loathing grew concurrently as the evening progressed until I finally uttered my inner monologue aloud.
“I’m a hack.”
The second time I said it (and every subsequent time, of which there were legion), I was able to keep the words inside my head, which I felt was a victory of sorts. But it didn’t change how I was feeling, with my primary emotion being one of complete impotence.
Megan, of course, was feeling none of this, but responded to each new miracle with the oohs and ahhs which are the lifeblood of magicians. She spent most of the performance literally sitting on the edge of her seat, leaning forward in anticipation of each new illusion. And she wasn’t alone; Quinton held the crowd confidently in the palm of his hand. His interactions with the audience members were real and genuine and he was never thrown, even when a trick seemed to go slightly awry. In fact, he got more out of the mistakes that occurred than I generally am able to get when my entire act goes right. Which is rare. Or hardly ever. Let’s call it never.
Speaking in an indefinable accent—was it British? German? Baltic? No, turns out he’s Swiss—Quinton was consistently charming and engaging, often seeming to enjoy the illusions as much or more than the audience. His delight was infectious and the act, which was brilliantly structured, built to a final climax that left the audience stunned. We sat in silence for several long moments before the small crowd burst into applause, giving him an instant and heartfelt standing ovation – a real one, not the obligatory ovations Minnesotans proffer to virtually any performance which safely reaches its conclusion.
As he had done at the beginning of the evening, Quinton spoke personally with each of us as we left, creating an immediate if affable traffic jam pile-up at the suite’s door. Due to the confined nature of the space, I was able to hear his answers to all the questions put to him while we moved closer and closer to the exit.
“Is this the first time you’ve done this show?”
“No, I’ve performed similar shows in London, Zurich, Berlin and Madrid.”
“Why do it in a hotel suite, couldn’t you make more money in a large theater?”
“Yes, but then I would miss the–how you say?–intimacy of interacting with each member of the audience, such as I am doing now.”
“How are you enjoying Minneapolis?”
“We’re in St. Paul.” (Laughter)
“What brings you to the Twin Cities?”
“I have a corporate engagement in town and thought this would be an ideal time to present this show as well. Murder a couple of birds, as it were.”
And then it was our turn.
“It was wonderful,” Megan gushed. “Truly wonderful.”
“Thank you,” Quinton replied, turning his thousand-watt smile on Megan, and then on me. Megan grabbed my arm and pulled me forward. “This is my friend Eli. He’s a magician too!”
I hadn’t thought it was possible to feel any worse about myself, but it turns out I was wrong. I suddenly felt about a foot tall. Quinton, however, seemed oddly delighted by the news.
“Not Eli Marks?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said tentatively.
“Brilliant. I had the very great pleasure of meeting your uncle, Harry Marks, at the show last night.”
“Really? He hadn’t mentioned it.”
“Charming gentleman. We had a wonderful conversation. He even talked me into doing a lecture at your magic store.”
“Odd. He didn’t mention that either.”
“He’s quite persuasive.”
“He is that.”
“I must tell you, it certainly was a thrill to finally meet Harry Marks. Something of a legend, isn’t he?”
“He likes to think he is.”
“Well thank you so much for coming tonight. I look forward to seeing you at your shop.”
“We can’t wait,” Megan said before I could respond.
Quinton smiled at her and then at me and then we were out the door.
The drive back to Minneapolis was a quiet one. I did my best to convince myself this was because the roads were treacherous and I needed to concentrate on my driving. But Megan sensed something was amiss.
“He was really good,” she ventured at one point.
“Yes. Yes he was.”
A few more moments of silence passed.
“Did you enjoy the show?”
“It doesn’t feel like you enjoyed it.”
“Is this a psychic perception?”
“You don’t have to be psychic to sense you didn’t have much fun.”
She had a point. “It’s hard,” I ventured, “to watch something that good and not feel bad about it. I mean, if you’re in the same business. If that makes any sense.”
“But he’s not better than you,” she said. “Just different.”
“No, he’s better. A lot better.” I turned off the freeway and made a left on 46th Street, moving us as quickly toward Chicago Avenue as the traffic and the snow would allow.
“Do you want to hear a joke?”
I turned to look, her adorable face peeking out of a too-big parka, and couldn’t help but smile. “Sure. Tell me a joke.”
“Okay, let me remember how it goes,” she said, biting her lip while working out the joke in her head. “Okay, I got it. How do you climb off an elephant?”
“I don’t know. How do you climb off an elephant?”
“You don’t. You climb off a duck.”
I furrowed my brow and gave her a long look. At least, as long a look as I dared give as the car slipped and slid along the snowy roadway. “Honey, I think you told it wrong.”
She shook her head defiantly. “Nope, that’s the way I heard it.”
“I think the actual joke is, ‘How do you get down from an elephant? You don’t, you get down from a duck.’ ”
“That’s what I said.”
“I don’t think that’s what you said.”
“My way makes just as much sense as your way.”
“No,” I began and then stopped, glancing at her again. “Are you doing this to take my mind off the show we just saw and my completely understandable feelings of total and utter inadequacy?”
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
I couldn’t help but smile. “Thanks. It’s working. But you still got the joke wrong.” Before she could object, I pulled the car into a parking space in front of her duplex.
After a quick kiss goodnight and a final word from her on the subject (“You’re still my favorite magician”), I deposited Megan safely at the front door to her duplex and then crossed Chicago Avenue and began the short and slippery trip down the block to my place. The sidewalk in front of Megan’s building had been recently shoveled, but the owners of many of the apartment buildings across the street had apparently given up. Due to the frequency and amount of snow we’d received so far this year, it was hard to blame them, but even harder to navigate across their sidewalks.
The businesses on the block had done a far better job of keeping up with the various snowfalls than the apartment houses. Consequently, by the time I hit Pepito’s restaurant, I was feeling much steadier on my feet. It was still early enough that the restaurant was going strong, but The Parkway Theater next door was dark and apparently closed for the night.
I glanced up at the theater’s marquee and was amused to see it had changed since that afternoon, when it had read Séance on a Wet Dog Day Afternoon. Now the letters spelled out Big Trouble in Little Chinatown.
The theater had recently undergone a management change and the new manager delighted in putting together what she called Parkway Double Plays, but what my uncle Harry had come to call “Dopey Double Features.” These were pairings of movies which had no actual connection to each other except that the words in their titles could fit together in weird and wonderful ways. Other favorite past Dopey Double Features have included Murder By Death on the Nile, Dr. Strangelove and Death, Boyz in the Parenthood and The Citizen Kane Mutiny.
Chicago Magic was next door to the theater and I slipped quietly into the store and silently up to my third floor apartment. I stopped briefly on the second floor landing but saw no light under the door, which confirmed my suspicion that my uncle Harry had already gone to bed. I made a mental note to discuss Quinton Moon and this alleged, impending lecture in the morning, and then headed up the last flight to my apartment.
I was tired and ready for bed, but old habits die hard and before I knew it I found myself at my desk, scrolling through my new emails, sorting the cream from the spam. As I waited for one particularly large email to open, I glanced out my window and was surprised to see there was still one light burning at the Parkway Theater next door.
My apartment overlooks the projection booth in the theater and even though it’s very much an obstructed view, I have often enjoyed peering into the room from my odd vantage point, trying to figure out what movie is playing by the way the lights bounced off a mirror on the far wall of the booth.
There was no movie running at the moment, but something else immediately grabbed my attention. I stood up to get a better view and confirmed my worst suspicions. Even from this new angle there was no denying my first impression had been correct.
There was a body lying on the floor of the projection booth, lying in what appeared to be a small pool of blood.
It is appropriate that this book is about magicians considering the book leads you down one path towards the killer and then with “sleight of hand” someone else becomes the killer!
This is the 3rd book in the series and I don’t think I’ve guessed the killer yet! Along with Eli, there is a hodge podge of interesting characters including Mr. Lime – who is definitely an enigma and what exactly his role is in these books. I like how Mr. Lime has a code name for Eli, and that Eli never knows when he is going to see Mr. Lime.
Uncle Harry is still around but something has him preoccupied – but you will find out what at the end of the book. He is also very wise in informing Eli how lazy he (Eli) has become with his magic. It makes Eli think about the illusions/tricks he performs and maybe he is just going through the motions. It doesn’t hurt that there is another magician on the scene that is making Eli jealous and rethinking a lot of things in his life.
We give this 4 paws up so check out this series especially since book 2, The Bullet Catch, is just $0.99 right now!
About the Author
In real life, John’s not a magician, but he has directed six low-budget features that cost very little and made even less – that’s no small trick. He’s also written multiple books on the subject of low-budget filmmaking. Ironically, they’ve made more than the films. His blog, “Fast, Cheap Movie Thoughts
,” has been named “One of the 50 Best Blogs for Moviemakers” and “One of The 100 Best Blogs For Film and Theater Students.” He’s also written for TV and the stage. John lives in Minnesota and shares his home with his lovely wife, several dogs, a few cats and a handful of pet allergies.