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The Houdini Girl: A Novel by Martyn Bedford

The Houdini Girl: A Novel (1998)

by Martyn Bedford

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This was an interesting book to read, with a far more difficult review to compose as there are so many levels to this story it is often difficult to make sense without spoilers. First I will say, Martyn Bedford mastered the inclusion of multiple layers of depth in this story. A murder mystery at first glance, but so rich with metaphor and emotion, that to pigeonhole it as simply that is doing both story and author a great disservice.

By the title, I initially thought that he book would focus more on the magic than the characters, reality versus illusion and those who understand the depth of the illusions they create to entertain their audience. Illusions are described frequently throughout, with the simple lasting impression that the audience (or reader) is meant to find the reality stuck within. Although the whirlwind courtship and relationship between Red and Rosa was ‘real’ and is shown in several flashbacks that incorporate both erotic and more mundane moments, Red soon determines that much of the Rosa that he ‘knew’ was fabrication; the reality shared with him was laden with half-truths and outright deception. As he travels back to find her real history, he is faced with several moments that are both disturbing and provide revealing insight into her history and his own deeply held secrets and shames. Rosa is a highly damaged woman, so as one reads on to discover her history there are insights into the abuse that created such a wounded creature.

The language is not flowery, in fact the use of F*** is so prevalent that one becomes numbed to its use. All of the characters are drawn with defined personalities, even Merlin, the cat is detailed and acts within the confines that Bedford has designed. Characters grow as the story progresses, either in the readers understanding of them, or their understanding of themselves. The story is so compelling, with the questions about life, love, reality and illusion, that it breezes by. It is not a simple mystery, nor a simple love story, but facing reality and finding the real truth about who you are, and what you desire and how that meets or misses what you have found.

I received an eBook from the author for purpose of honest review for the Jeep Diva. I was not compensated for this review; all conclusions are my own responsibility.
( )
  IamIndeed | Mar 29, 2013 |
An unusual story well-crafted, but not for those who object to strong language of which there was probably a surfeit. ( )
  edwardsgt | Dec 14, 2009 |
Boy meets girl. Girl moves in with boy the next day. Boy and girl live together until one year later, girl leaves boy. The twist here is that the boy (Red) is a magician and the girl (Rosa) turns up dead before he even knows she's left him. What happened here? And who was Rosa really?
The first part of the book is engaging and we see snippits of Red and Rosa's life together in flashblacks, as well as Red's gradual discoveries that Rosa was not what she seemed. Red makes a sympathetic character, UNTIL we come to the second part of the book, where Red steps out of character and starts acting like a master detective (only for the sake of bringing the plot forward it seems). Red's actions are so unbelievable that the book turns nearly into a farce. Still, I read eagerly on, waiting for the payoff: what happened to Rosa?

Some reviewers have noted that this book isn't easily forgettable, and I'd have to agree. Although I won't be keeping this one on my bookshelf, I did have an enjoyable time reading it. ( )
  lenoreva | Apr 25, 2008 |
Red meets Rosa, and promptly falls for her. The seduction begins with a simple magic trick - and the deception inherent in magic becomes indicative of the year they spend together.

Trying to come to terms with Rosa's sudden death, Red comes to find much of her life was an illusion. He commmences a journey to unfurl the mystery of Rosa, which takes him to Amsterdam's seedy red light district, and only creates more difficult to answer questions. It is difficult for him to locate information on Rosa, and what he discovers only makes matters more perplexing. The denoument took me totally by surprise.

The more I think about it, the more this book impresses me. Bedford slowly reveals details, allowing the story to come together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The story becomes increasingly compelling as it moves along. Bedford's use of magic and illusion as metaphor is brilliant and thought-provoking. A book well worth reading ( )
  Jawin | Dec 31, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375704760, Paperback)

Fletcher Brandon, known onstage as Peter Prestige the Prodigious Prestidigitator (and offstage simply as Red), has never met anyone as alive as Rosa Kelly. Yet a year after their mutual seduction one night in an Oxford pub, this beautiful, foul-mouthed, flinty Irishwoman is dead--either a suicide or a murder victim. The magician, summoned from a show in the north of England, finds himself hoping that she has perpetrated an elaborate ruse: "I would've given anything for the coroner's officer to whisk away the sheet with a theatrical flourish to reveal a bare table and for Rosa, in a sequined costume, to emerge, stage left, with beaming radiance."

Though Red had seen Rosa the morning of her death, as long-haired and flamboyant as ever, the body's head is shaved and makeup-free. What's more, further investigation reveals that she had taken her passport and withdrawn a large sum from two accounts. And as Red discovers, his lover had deceived him--a master illusionist--about almost everything: her past, her family, her job. When he realizes that she had done so not out of malice but self-protection, he is determined to find her killer.

The Houdini Girl defies genres. It is a murder mystery in which the victim is offed in the initial pages. It is a tragic love story. It is a tale of double lives and identities--even Rosa's cat has two names. Martyn Bedford's third novel is also a physical and metaphysical exploration of the lure of magic, and of its abuses: one of Rosa's friends wonders, "Why are magicians so obsessed with bondage and penetration?" As the immensely talented Bedford powers through his tale of guilt and innocence (things that he knows are far from mutually exclusive), his flawed hero describes the tricks he and his assistant, the Lovely Kim, work on their audience. From the Zigzag Girl to the Lost Princess, these exploits are breathtakingly woven into the action and themes of the novel, which careens from Oxford to Amsterdam--where his heroine's irreparable past springs into full and sordid life. In the end, The Houdini Girl offers provocative proof of Auden's much-criticized line, "We must love one another or die." --Kerry Fried

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:36 -0400)

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