Note: The summary below is for less than the first hundred pages of a 300-page book. I don’t consider them spoilers, but if you’re a stickler, don’t read beyond this.
There’s quite a lot to like about this book. The author, Stuart Jaffe, was unknown to me before I attended a small science fiction/fantasy con in Chattanooga, TN, in June of 2013. My friends and I met the author, spent some time with him, liked him, and I ended up buying two of his books because they sounded interesting. This is the first I have read. Note: The other author, Cameron Francis, is a magician, and all of the card “tricks” in the book are his. Jaffe and Cameron do a good job of showing card tricks without the use of cards. :)
The main character, Duncan Rose, starts out not very likable. He learned all about magic — especially card-handling techniques — from his great-grandfather, Pappy. But instead of using his skills to make an honest living as a stage magician, he cheats at cards. This backfires on him one night, and his partner in crime, Pancake, who also knows a little about cheating at cards, cheats the wrong people and nothing Duncan does to try to defuse the situation helps. Minor spoiler: Pancake ends up losing his hand to the Russian mob, and the men are told they have to come up with $20,000 before morning or worse things are going to befall them. [White-on-white text; highlight to read spoiler.]
Desperate, Duncan turns to his estranged family and gets no help. They’re all tired of his dishonest lifestyle. As a last-ditch effort, he goes to the one person he can trust: Pappy.
Who turns him down.
In despair, Duncan decides that he is going to have to do the unthinkable: steal from Pappy. Pappy has kept a mysterious, elaborately decorated door closed in his apartment for years, warning Duncan again and again never to open it. But suddenly, whatever might be behind that door sounds like the solution to Duncan’s problems. He opens the door and steps through.
And winds up outside a house in a small city in Pennsylvania. In 1934. He’s wearing different clothes and finds less than five dollars in his pockets. He tries to convince himself it’s all an elaborate illusion set up by Pappy, but quickly realizes that it’s real. For whatever reason, the door is magic — the real thing — and he really is in 1934. His goal: to get back to 2013 and fix things.
He immediately falls back on his one real skill and finds a card game he can cheat at. He discovers he’s not the only one pulling the same scam. He and the other magician, Vincent, team up and cheat some mobsters out of $100, which is a large sum of money in 1934.
Unfortunately, their boss figures it out and comes for Duncan. And makes him a deal: Duncan is to get himself into the local magic club (of which Vincent is the head honcho) and find out their secrets and relay everything he discovers to the mob boss “or else.”
He soon discovers that everyone is after the same thing: a mysterious Vanishing Door act performed by a magician near the turn of the century. An act during which several people actually disappeared. Lucy has drawn a picture of the door, and it looks strangely familiar: a lot like the door in Pappy’s apartment.
Vincent wants the door because he wants the secret of the trick. Duncan wants it because he believes it to be his ticket home to 2013. The mob boss wants it for the power he believes it will give him.
To complicate things, Duncan finds himself head over heels in love with Vincent’s sister, Lucy, and is torn between leaving her in 1934 or bringing her with him back to 2013.
I won’t give away the ending. Suffice it to say that the resolution was refreshing to me. Time travel stories generally have a number of problems, but Jaffe manages to thread that particular needle nicely, and finds a solution that didn’t make me groan and roll my eyes.
The tension is kept high as Duncan must satisfy the mob boss while simultaneously gain the trust of Vincent and the other magicians in the magic club and not betray his growing love for Lucy, and hers for him. The pacing is fast, and you will be kept turning the pages not only to find out how — or whether — Duncan manages to find a solution to all of his problems, but how the love story between Lucy and Duncan turns out.
I enjoyed watching Duncan grow from a likable character to one that finds true love and tries to do the right thing.
The characters are believable, the time travel is nicely handled (although never explained, which I’m fine with), and the resolution is satisfying. Although I did (eventually) see the end coming, it has a certain elegance that I wasn’t expecting from the trope used. (Is that mysterious enough?)
I would recommend the book to those who enjoy magic, time travel, “period pieces,” mysteries, and love stories. It has aspects of all of them, and yet isn’t purely any of them.
I’ve referenced my writing history before. How I’ve always wanted to be a writer. How I have had stories in my head since I was about 11. And how in 2008 I finally kicked myself into gear and started actually, you know . . . writing.
After I joined the Forum Writers in 2008 (followed shortly thereafter by a couple of other groups), I noticed that a writer I liked and respected both for her writing and her advocacy (more on this later) was having a writers workshop at Dragon*Con.
All you had to do was submit a short story or the first 3000 words of a novel and pay a small fee and you could get into Ann Crispin’s Beginning Writer Workshop. She would let in about 24 students, and there was a strict deadline so she and we could read the stories for critique.
I sent in a story I had first written in the mid-90s called “. . . And Promises to Keep.” It had been edited and edited and critiqued and edited some more, and I considered it my best work to date.
Thus I became one of the Dragon*Con 2008 Ann Crispin Beginning Writers Workshop students. I met 23 other writers, there, and a good many of us are still in touch. I’ve since met other people who were in one of her workshops in other years, and all of those people speak well of Ann and her workshop. I won’t say I got the best critique, but I did learn a lot and I heard some things my tender ears needed to hear.
Ann spent two full days of the con talking about the ins and outs of the craft of writing, the business end of writing, and telling us her own personal experiences. She referenced her work with Victoria Strauss on Writer Beware, laboring valiantly to protect writers from those who seek to exploit us.
We got to know her a little. I’ve been following her on social media during her lengthy fight with cancer. And then came this post from Facebook yesterday.
This is just devastating. I was in tears for a good while after reading it, as I am again while typing this.
But you know what really gets me? That even in this, what will most likely be her final Facebook entry, Ann is still encouraging aspiring writers. To finish. To get a good contract. And to watch out for unscrupulous jerks who take advantage of others.
I am . . . without words. I will merely say, Ann, you taught me a lot, and I enjoy your books, appreciate that you help other writers get better, and applaud your untiring efforts to protect your community from those who seek to prey on them.
Thank you for everything.