The Magician’s Lie

Written by Greer Macallister
Review by Kate Braithwaite

“Those who tell their own story, you know, must be listened to with caution.” This quote from Jane Austen’s Sanditon is rightly placed on the opening page of Greer MacAllister’s excellent novel of murder and magic in the American Midwest.

The narrator, whose reliability is under suspicion here, is the Amazing Arden, a famous female illusionist whose husband has just been found murdered under the stage of the Iowa theater where she performed earlier that night. When Arden is taken into custody not far from the crime scene by a young policeman, Virgil Holt, she has one night to tell him the story of her life and convince him that she is not her husband’s killer.

In The Magician’s Lie, Arden’s story is a pleasure to read, especially because the reader, just like Virgil Holt in the story, is caught up in wondering how much she is to be believed. From 1890s Philadelphia to Tennessee and back north to New York City and the world of magic and illusion, Arden appears to be making a clean breast of things, but at the same time she is charming Virgil and may not be as firmly his captive as Virgil thinks she is.

The world of the travelling entertainer is marvelously brought to life here, and Arden is a fascinating character – independent but also vulnerable. In structure and style, the novel bears comparison with Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants. Definitely recommended.