Harry Houdini comes to life in Galloway’s literary thriller. Houdini’s early poverty and a promise to his father keep him always striving for more, which, in his business, equates to more danger. Wife Bess is unhappy with Houdini’s inability to enjoy the present. In addition to his escape and magician act, Houdini works with the U.S. Secret Service, spying on foreign governments and making note of European prison facilities when hired to break out of them. His work brings him into contact with the Russian Romanovs, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Crandon and other famous persons.
Galloway tells this story in three ways: the sections devoted to Houdini are in the third person, but other sections are narrated by Martin Strauss: in the present day, in which Martin has been diagnosed with a brain disorder that will cause him to have false memories; and in the past, beginning in 1926 and up to and beyond when Martin punched Harry Houdini in the stomach and killed the magician. Within these alternating sections, flashbacks duel with the main thread. I had no trouble keeping track of the when and where and whom, as I was enthralled by the story and read the book in two days. Slower readers might find the flashbacks and multiple points of view difficult to follow.
Galloway’s writing is masterful. While keeping the suspense high and bringing depth to multiple characters, this author uncovers truths about family, life, love and magic. The Confabulist is a wonderful mix of intriguing characters, thought-provoking ideas and fast-paced action.