This is the first book in a series introducing the famous Harry Houdini as an investigator of crimes.
The year is 1897 and Harry Houdini is still a struggling magician in New York. While he is determined to become a world-famous escapologist, New York and the world are not yet ready to accept him as such or give him a chance to prove himself.
With the help of his brother, Dash and his wife Bess, Harry is just about making a living in a Dime Museum, performing a three minute trick as part of a human curiosities show when he is summoned to the house of toy tycoon Branford Wintour by New York detectives.
It appears that Wintour has been killed by a toy automaton while alone in a room, locked from the inside.
Although the police have already apprehended the man who provided Wintour with the toy for questioning Harry is convinced that the toy was not the murder weapon and determined to prove that the toy-seller, who is an old friend, did not kill anyone. As a big fan of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Harry is sure that he can use the famous detective’s reasoning methods and discover who did kill the tycoon and how. And like his fictional hero, Harry has no faith in the investigative powers of the local police.
Dash on the other hand would prefer to leave the matter to those whose job it is to solve crimes but follows his brother while he starts making inquiries.
When both the old toy-seller and his wife end up dead too, both Harry and Dash want to get to the bottom of what exactly is going on, putting themselves into grave danger while delving into the darker sides of New York.
Harry and his brother Dash make a fun partnership to read about. They bounce of each other well, exasperating each other yet very close, as only brothers can be. While Dash is a rather sensible and down-to-earth character, Harry doesn’t suffer from modesty, false or otherwise. He is convinced of his greatness, both as an escapologist and as an investigator, and not shy about sharing that conviction with others. He is also rather innocent and naïve though, which makes for a charming combination and gets the two brothers both in and out of some tricky situations.
On the surface there are strong parallels with the Sherlock Holmes stories here. Not only is Harry Houdini a huge fan of Sherlock Holmes, he also shares the famous detective’s arrogance and doesn’t think twice about casting his brother Dash in the role of Dr. Watson. In this respect though, the book holds one or two surprises for the reader which made the story far less predictable than it might have been.
This is an easy to read story. The narrative flows and although there are plenty of observations and descriptions, the action comes at such a pace that the pages almost turn themselves.
Although the solution to the who-dunnit part of the mystery did not come as a huge surprise to me, the manner in which the crime was accomplished and the reason why did, which was very gratifying.
Overall I would call this an entertaining, light and rather traditional mystery which was a delight to read.