Available from Amazon. Published originally’The Ambitious Card’ (published August 2013) will be the first in a mystery series (as yet unwritten) about magician, Eli Marks. Eli is a magician in the sense that he is a conjuror, with his feet firmly on the ground, relying on his own skill and a little sleight of hand. This is very different from being a psychic, someone who claims to have special powers which enable them to make contact with ‘the other side’ and even to offer therapy. Eli and his uncle Harry (also a magician), who run the magic shop ‘Chicago Magic’, count themselves as ‘sceptics’, or as the TV station calls it, ‘debunkers’. When Eli ‘debunks’ the celebrity psychic, Grey, on a high profile, Halloween, psychic show, he expected a few insults but not that Grey, the psychic himself, would be murdered within hours, or that this would be the start of a number of murders of psychics.
Another problem for Eli is that his ex wife’s current husband is Homicide Officer Fred Hutton, who, when he realises that Eli had been on the scene, arrests him, over and over again, more or less every time another psychic is murdered. Eli has a moment of madness when he sings the song ‘Mediocre Fred’ (No, I hadn’t heard of it either!) to the recording tape, when he is left locked up in the interrogation room; this lends a bit of humour to the story, but nothing to the character of Eli, who most of the time is quite straight up and down. The ex-wife, Deirdre, is a motherly figure, who takes it upon herself to rescue Eli from most of the scrapes he manages to get into. Another complication is that the King of Diamonds appears at every murder scene, which seems to implicate Eli further – perhaps a little too obviously. It couldn’t be that Eli was being set-up, could it?
There is a love interest, bumbling psychic Megan, who was too much too dumb for my liking, and it is Eli’s involvement with her that leads him to the denouement in Minneapolis’s scary Wabasha Street Caves.
The storyline is well-written, in that it holds the reader’s interest, and the plot just about works. I wasn’t completely convinced by it, although the murderer was fully integrated into the story throughout, and well camoflagued. A loose end in the plot was the British journalist, Clive Albans, who was mocked throughout, for being too eager to learn magic tricks, always there (although how he kept appearing was never clear) and for aiming to write about the murders – as if no American would even dream of such a thing – and even at the end of the story, there was no obvious point in this character being included. Clive was painted as a sort of Wodehouse look-alike. I generally got the impression that the author didn’t like Brits very much.
The background to the story was well-researched, or based upon what the author already knew, particularly his knowledge of magic tricks and the magic show industry. John Gaspard made things easy for himself by basing the novel in his home town of Minneapolis, but his frequent references to landmarks, roads and districts, without any further illumination, occasionally made the book read like the local newspaper.
There were generally too many characters, even though crime novels do tend to have more characters than other genre books (because you need a range of suspects, obviously). However, I didn’t feel I knew Eli Marks, his lovely Uncle Harry, or any of the characters very well, especially as many of them appeared for a chapter or two then got murdered.
Well, Dear Reader, would I recommend ‘The Ambitious Card’? Would I read another Eli Marks mystery? Yes, I would do both.