Tuesday ’Tec! The Invisible Assistant (An Eli Marks Short Story) by John Gaspard

Abracadabra!

the-invisible-assistant

Eli Marks is a stage magician with a penchant for getting mixed up in murder, often via his ex-wife, the delightfully named Assistant District Attorney Deirdre Sutton-Hutton and her new husband, Homicide Detective Fred Hutton. The books are full of humour and, though set in the present day, have plots that are reminiscent of Golden Age mysteries, with clues, suspects, red herrings, etc. Having loved each of the full-length Eli Marks novels, I couldn’t resist seeing if John Gaspard could work the same magic in a short story, so this Kindle short seemed like a perfect pick for this week’s…

Tuesday Tec2

The Invisible Assistant

by John Gaspard

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John Gaspard
John Gaspard

Eli is performing at a corporate event and needs two members of the audience to come up on stage to help out with his next trick. To his less-than-thrilled surprise, one of the reluctant volunteers turns out to be none other than his ex-wife’s new husband, Detective Fred Hutton.

…I launched into my Cards Across routine, counting three cards into Melissa’s outstretched hand, and then seven cards into the hand that Homicide Detective Fred Hutton had reluctantly put forward. I caught his eye as I finished counting the seventh card, and the icy stare he gave me told me exactly how much he was enjoying his time onstage.

The trick involves Eli calling on his “invisible assistant” as the cards magically transfer themselves from one volunteer’s hand to the other’s.

(Eli’s trick is a little different to this one, but the basic idea is the same.)

After the performance, Eli’s ex-wife Deirdre explains that she and Fred were in the audience because she wants to ask his advice about an apparent murder/suicide case they’re working on. Two men were found dead in a house – one, Harley Keller, upstairs, shot through the chest, and the other, Josiah Manning, downstairs, shot in the head and with a gun lying at his feet. It seems obvious that Manning must have shot Keller first, then gone downstairs and shot himself. Fred’s happy with that theory, anyway, but Deirdre doesn’t buy it. Keller was a pro-suicide campaigner, believing people should be allowed to take their own life whenever they wanted. But Manning was passionately anti-suicide. The two men had clashed in public debates on the subject.

“So [said Eli], let me get this straight: The anti-suicide guy, who believed fervently in the sanctity of life, murdered the pro-suicide guy and then to top it all off, he killed himself?”

“That’s what the police believe,” Deirdre said, throwing a sidelong glance at her husband. He did not return it.

Now Deirdre wants Eli to see if he can come up with an alternative explanation…

“On occasion you’ve offered a unique perspective that I think could be useful in this instance.”

“I believe the phrase you used when we were married was, ‘You have a bizarre way of looking at things.’”

“Yes,” she said, leaving it at that.

So the bickering Deirdre and Fred take Eli along to the crime scene…

From my vantage point in the front seat of my car, I could see them talking in the front seat of theirs. And from where I sat, it did not look like a happy conversation…

…on the few occasions I had witnessed these arguments, I had to restrain myself from saying something along the lines of, “Jeez, you left me so you could argue with him? You could’ve skipped the divorce and continued arguing with me.” But I wisely never said that. At least, not so far.

* * * * *

This is just as much fun as the books! The short format obviously doesn’t allow for the complexity of plotting of the novels, and regular readers already know these three characters and the dynamics amongst them, so there’s no need for much character development. But all the usual humour is there and, as usual, Eli’s knowledge of stage magic plays its part. I didn’t work it out, or even get close, but found it nicely satisfying when all was revealed. Gaspard is great at this kind of “impossible” crime, where the fun is in working out how it was done, and the method is always beautifully quirky. The books are usually whodunits too, but the length restrictions of this one means there are no suspects beyond the two victims themselves.

It works perfectly as a standalone, either as a little treat for existing fans impatiently waiting for the next book, or perhaps as an introduction to Gaspard’s style for newcomers. It is very definitely a short story, not a novella – I’d say it took me about twenty minutes or so to read. But I was smiling for longer than that…

* * * * * * *

PS – After I’d posted this, the author John Gaspard kindly popped in to the comments to leave a link to where you can listen to this story for free. I’ve sampled it and love the narrator’s voice – just right for the story. Here it is… click on the red button to play…

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Or for the e-book version…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

The books in the series

The Ambitious Card

The Bullet Catch

The Miser’s Dream

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

It's a Poirot!
It’s a Poirot!

31 thoughts on “Tuesday ’Tec! The Invisible Assistant (An Eli Marks Short Story) by John Gaspard

  1. This sounds brilliant, I shall certainly give it a look… but it gets me thinking that I REALLY want to read the Atticus Pund novel where the headmaster is killed during a school play. How annoying is it that those books aren’t real? Also – had to smile when Sophie Hannah got a mention in Magpie Murders. When it said that she had done a great job with the new Poirot, I was reminded I was reading fiction 🙂 (How very mean of me, I know – but I can’t forgive her for replacing the fabulous Hastings with that idiot Catchpool!)

    • I think you’d like these – a bit cosier than your usual but great plots. I know!!! I wish he’d write them! Are you finished it? Haha! I’d love to know what he really thought of the dreaded Catchpool – I wondered if he had his tongue firmly in his cheek… 😉

      • These are right up my street, they can be there to fill the Horowitz-shaped hole that looms before me… I haven’t finished it yet, but every spare moment I read a bit more. I have even shifted my planned writing time for Thursday to Wednesday and Friday evening so I can finish it off in one, big go! He can’t have approved of Catchpool – I REFUSE to believe that! I think you are right and it was an ironic statement 😉

    • He does! He’d definitely be on the invite list for my fantasy authors’ dinner – I bet he’d be fun. These are also fun – great plots with a nice entertaining tone…

  2. Oh, that does sound like a great read, FictionFan! And it’s to Gaspard’s credit that the story works in the shorter form. It’s sometimes hard to make the adjustment from longer to shorter stories. I like the card trick motif, too. I can’t do those sorts of magic tricks myself, but I so appreciate those who do them well.

    • It is! I love this series, but because they rely so much on plotting I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to pull it off in a short story – but he does! I still find it hard to believe he’s not a magician – he really brings the tricks to life, which isn’t easy when you can’t actually see them…

    • I love these Kindle short stories for that very reason – sometimes I don’t have the time or energy to tackle a full-scale novel, but just want something to fill half-an-hour. This whole series is great fun, though… 🙂

    • I reckon you’d love them – nice and light but with proper plots, which is why I can never bring myself to think of them as out-and-out cosies, and very well written…

    • I’ve added the free audiobook version to the bottom of my post if you’re interested (link kindly supplied by the author!) – I know you like to listen to audiobooks sometimes and it’ll give you a feel for the style of the books.

  3. Oddly enough, I’d just finished watching a magic themed movie–Now You See Me 2 when I decided to turn to the blog post here that I’d missed. And what do you know–it’s magic themed too. That video was really fun. And the story sounds equally so. I’ll definitely check it out.

    • Hurrah! It’s a great little story in its own right and it gives a real flavour of the books too. I love this series – I always enjoy the way he works a magic trick or two into the plot… 🙂

  4. Thanks for your entertaining review and to John G for the pleasure of listening to the story. I have read and enjoyed the other books in the series on your earlier recommendation.

    • Oh, that’s great to hear! I love them – I always enjoy the magic tricks, and the plots are always so tricky. And it was so nice of John G to pop in and give us the link. I thought the narrator did a great job. 🙂

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