The Linking Rings (Eli Marks 4) by John Gaspard

“To see oursels as ithers see us…”

😀 😀 😀 🙂

When his uncle Harry is invited to perform at the Magic Circle in London, Eli Marks takes the opportunity of turning the trip into a holiday for himself and his girlfriend, Megan. But things take a dramatic turn when one of the magicians slated to appear with Harry dies on stage – killed by a “magic” contraption. As Harry falls under suspicion, Eli and some of Harry’s magician friends must try to find out what happened…

I love this series so approached this book with high expectations and it has a lot of the elements that make the series so enjoyable. Eli is a first person narrator (past tense) and it’s always fun to listen in on his thoughts about the people he meets. Gaspard always presents the stage magic interestingly, without breaking the magician’s code of not revealing how tricks are done. I love the interaction between Eli and his elderly uncle and, by extension, the older generation of stage magicians he knows from the days when stage magic was still bigger than TV magic.

But the transplanting of the characters to London didn’t work so well for me. Thankfully Gaspard doesn’t go the funny accent route, but he does keep suggesting that perfectly commonplace English expressions are actually American in origin and therefore hard for us old-fashioned throwbacks to use confidently. And when Eli began to refer to his hotel as Fawlty Towers, it set my teeth on edge somewhat. It’s such a cliché. I also can’t help but get picky about factual or cultural inaccuracies that could have been sorted by a little research: for example, the suggestion that magistrates are responsible for charging people with crimes, or a police officer using the term ‘capital crime’ in a country that abolished capital punishment back when the Beatles still had short hair. Irritating errors like these, and there were several more of them, tend to throw me out of the flow of the story. I strongly suggest that if American authors want to write books based in Britain and publish them in Britain, they should hire a British editor to give them a final look over before sending the proofs to the printers.

However, I doubt any of these things would annoy American readers, who will make up the bulk of Gaspard’s audience, so hey ho! But I personally will be glad when Eli returns to Minnesota for his next adventure.

John Gaspard

Otherwise, the plot itself is quite fun with its origins back in Harry’s past, leading to enjoyable reminiscing among the entertaining group of magicians who’ve assembled for the performances at the Magic Circle. It seemed to me to cross the credibility line more than is usual in this series, and perhaps not to be quite as “fair play”. But there’s plenty of humour in it and Eli is as likeable a hero as always.

I know this review has been quite critical but I did enjoy reading the book overall, although it certainly isn’t my favourite in the series. However, it was good to see the personal stories of the main characters move forward, and I look forward to meeting up with them all again in their next outing.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Henery Press.

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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…

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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!

The Miser’s Dream (Eli Marks 3) by John Gaspard

the miser's dreamAs if by magic…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

From the window of his bedroom, Eli can see into the projectionist’s booth of the nearby movie theatre, and often watches the flickering lights to see if he can work out what movie is showing. But one evening what he sees is a body lying motionless on the floor. When the police arrive, they find all the elements of a classic ‘locked room’ mystery. The projectionist lies dead with the murder weapon nearby, but the door is locked on the inside, the window is tiny and barred, and the gaps through which the films are projected are too small for anyone to get through. They also find an empty film can…

I love this series. Eli is a great character – a stage magician with a fun sense of humour, who’s always getting mixed up in murders either through his job or because of his connection to his ex-wife, the delightfully named Assistant District Attorney Deirdre Sutton-Hutton and her new husband, Homicide Detective Fred Hutton. Eli’s back together with his girlfriend Megan, the psychic, in this one, although he’s suffering from wild jealousy because she’s become friendly with another visiting magician, Quinton Moon. Not only is Quinton charming and good-looking, he’s also a much better magician than Eli, so it’s hardly surprising Eli’s teeth grind every time his name is mentioned.

Eli is still living with his elderly uncle, above the magic shop which they jointly run. The regulars are all back and, as always, add a good deal of fun to the story. But, for all the warmth and humour in these books, I wouldn’t quite class them as cosies. The plots are always strong and though there is the ongoing romance between Eli and Megan this never takes over from the crime and investigation element. Eli’s connection to the police gets over the awkwardness of the amateur detective element, and this book sees the reappearance of the shady and scary underworld figure, known only as ‘Harry Lime’, who débuted in the last book, The Bullet Catch.

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It’s ‘Harry Lime’ who puts Eli onto the probable motive for the crime – he is convinced that the film can had contained a (real) lost masterpiece, London After Midnight. And he’s also able to provide a list of the people most likely to be keen to acquire such a prize. It’s now up to Eli and the police to investigate them and to solve the mystery of how the murderer managed to carry out the crime. As always, Gaspard comes up with some quirky suspects and characters to supplement the regulars.

Gaspard is not a magician but writes as knowledgeably as if he were, and the magic always plays a part in the plot. He follows the magician’s code of never revealing how the tricks are done, and describes them so well it’s almost like watching a great magician at work. The book titles are the names of magic tricks. In real life, he’s been involved in film-making as both writer and director and, since the introduction of ‘Harry Lime’, this has become a strong strand in the plots too, with lots of references to and jokes about classic movies.

John Gaspard
John Gaspard

The plotting and investigation elements of the book are very much like the traditional Golden Age mysteries – a crime, a collection of suspects, clues, red herrings etc. But the writing and characterisation bring them bang up to date so that they never read like pastiches. A truly welcome break from the modern diet of bleakness and misery, these are proper mysteries – not one of which I’ve been able to solve before Eli! And I hope to get the opportunity to fail to solve many more in the future. Highly recommended – this could easily be read as a standalone, but I’d recommend reading in order, starting with The Ambitious Card, to get the full benefit of the regular characters.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Henery Press.

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The Bullet Catch (Eli Marks 2) by John Gaspard

the bullet catchMagic, movies and murder…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

When stage magician Eli Marks is talked into attending his High School reunion by an old friend, Jake North, he suddenly finds himself entangled in two potentially deadly situations. An up-and-coming actor, Jake is in the middle of shooting a film about a magic trick that went wrong, resulting in the death of the magician. But Jake fears that someone is out to kill him and means to do so during the filming of the trick. So he asks Eli to come along as his magic consultant to make sure no-one can tamper with the trick. Then during the reunion Eli meets up with the girl he had a major crush on at school, the gorgeous Trish Henry. She showed no interest in him back then, but falls into conversation with him now and they spend the evening chatting. It’s something of a pity that she’s married – especially since her husband Dylan had a reputation at school of being one of the bad boys, and doesn’t seem to have improved with time. And when he’s murdered later that same night, Eli finds himself getting sucked into the investigation.

 

I loved Gaspard’s first book about Eli, The Ambitious Card, and ended my review with the fervent hope that we’d meet him again. I’m delighted to say this book is just as much fun. Eli is a truly likeable protagonist, intelligent and humorous, but with no pretensions to be a superhero. He’s currently single since Megan, his girlfriend from the last book, felt they were rushing things and suggested they take a break. He still wants things to work out with Megan but feels the pull of his old attraction to Trish, especially when she seems to be clinging to him as she tries to cope after her husband’s murder. Other old friends from the previous book put in appearances too. Eli is still living with his elderly uncle Harry, and their relationship is one of the things I like best about the series – it’s realistic and touching without being in any way mawkish, and their interactions provide much of the humour and warmth in the book. Harry’s group of elderly magician friends are fun to spend time with, as well as providing Eli with a great source of information about magic tricks of all kinds. And Franny the phone psychic is back in a minor role, still surprisingly spot-on with some of her predictions.

John Gaspard
John Gaspard

The plotting in this one is actually better than in the first, I think. The darker strand about Dylan’s murder is beautifully balanced by the more humorous strand about Jake and the film set. Gaspard has had real-life experience of directing low-budget films and clearly had fun sending the process up a little. There’s a whole bunch of slightly caricatured characters, from the harassed director to the embittered writer. And the book is laced with references to great classic films, making me want to go back and re-watch most of them. Overall, this is shaping up to be one of my favourite series – not quite light enough to be cosies, but warm and amusing, and great fun! I hope Mr Gaspard is hard at work on the next one…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Henery Press.

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The Ambitious Card by John Gaspard

Pure magic…

😀 😆 😀 😆 😀

the ambitious cardWhen magician and skeptic* Eli Marks debunks the spiritualist act of Grey (‘just Grey’) he is unknowingly setting himself up to be chief suspect when Grey turns up murdered. The situation isn’t helped by the fact that the detective in charge of the case is Eli’s ex-wife’s new husband (still with me?) and there’s little love lost between the two men. And when more psychics are bumped off, each being found with a King of Diamonds on them, it seems clear to Detective Hutton that Eli must be involved since this was the card he used in his Ambitious Card routine. So it looks like Eli will have to find the real murderer to get himself off the hook…

This is a hugely entertaining crime novel, packed full of comedy. Sometimes when an author goes for fun, it can be at the expense of plot or characterisation, but not here. Gaspard has created a very likeable protagonist in Eli, who is the first person narrator, and a complete cast of rather eccentric magicians and psychics amongst the victims and suspects. Eli’s relationship with his recently widowed uncle is believable and touching, and the interactions between them add much to the humour and warmth of the book. The plot is complex enough to have kept me guessing to the end but looking back the clues were there, so a ‘fair play’ novel.

John Gaspard
John Gaspard

What makes this extra special though is the magic. Eli talks us through various tricks without breaking the code of the magician not to reveal the secrets. This sounds like it might be annoying, but it isn’t – it’s like watching a really good stage magician at work. At one point he plays a trick on a character in a way that allows the reader to play along too – and stunningly he manages to read the reader’s mind! (OK, I did work out how that was done after the event, but it was a ‘Wow!’ moment at the time!) I was amazed to discover from the afterward that Gaspard is not a magician in real life – I was convinced he must be.

I have no idea whether the author intends this to be a standalone or the start of a series, but I really hope it’s the latter. Warm, funny and well plotted – a book to brighten any grey day. Do read it!

*Not my fault – that’s how Americans spell it!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Henery Press.

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