Goodreads): Water for Elephants meets The Night Circus in The Magician’s Lie, a debut novel in which the country’s most notorious female illusionist stands accused of her husband's murder --and she has only one night to convince a small-town policeman of her innocence.
The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.
But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a very different story to tell. Even handcuffed and alone, Arden is far from powerless—and what she reveals is as unbelievable as it is spellbinding. Over the course of one eerie night, Virgil must decide whether to turn Arden in or set her free… and it will take all he has to see through the smoke and mirrors.
And here's what I thought: This is one of those books that is a nearly perfect combination of lyrical writing, great storytelling, and compelling characters. I got caught up in the story right away, and found I was putting aside other responsibilities (like vacuuming, and reading books for work) so I could steal a few more minutes of reading. There is a great pace here, with a constant tension and release going on throughout the story. I also loved that the author mixed in factual details into the story, so it felt very realistic. For example, she adds in a character, Adelaide Herrmann, who really existed. Another detail was including the Iroquois Theatre fire in Chicago, and having Arden's performance set during the fire.
I admit that I may have found this book captivating because I have always enjoyed learning about magicians, illusionists, circus performers, etc. However, even if Arden hadn't been an illusionist, I would have still found her story compelling. Part of what I enjoyed reading about was a woman who had to overcome several obstacles in her life, and make her way on her own.
This is a great book to pair with any of these other books, not just for the subject material, but also because of the storytelling: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman, and Rain Village by Carolyn Turgeon. I would note that the last two books do have elements of the real/historical in them.
First lines: Tonight, I will do the impossible. The impossible is nothing new to me. As I do every night, I will make people believe things that aren't true. I will show them worlds that never existed, events that never happened. I will weave a web of beautiful illusion to snare them, a glittering trap that drags them willingly with me into the magical, false, spellbinding world.