The Magician’s Lie


The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her notorious trick of sawing a man in half on stage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden’s husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this audiobook. I’ve enjoyed the narrators’ work previously and the blurb sounded interesting. The story, about a female illusionist in the late 1800’s/early 1900 accused of her husband’s murder, starts quite slowly but I was soon drawn into Arden’s tale, beginning with her childhood on a farm and moving through the reasons she ran away. Her time at the Biltmore Estate, as a dancer in New York and her eventual introduction to her mentor, Adelaide, who trains her in the art of illusion.

In 1905 the Amazing Arden was established and admired, well-known for the ‘Halved Man’ illusion during which she appears to saw a man in half, except on this particular occasion she used an axe and a few hours later the bloody body of a man thought to be her husband is found at the theatre.

Then I will close the show, as I always do, with the Halved Man. I will cut a man in two, severing him through his trunk, and he will scream for mercy as the blood pours forth…….Then I will heal him. He will spring up whole again, wiping away the blood from an expanse of flawless skin, as if there had never been a wound. My healing powers are legendary, though no one really knows their true extent. They don’t know how I wish away my own injuries, the cuts and bruises, the burns, the broken bones.

Arden is arrested by local policeman, Virgil Holt, and taken to the police station where she’s handcuffed to a chair. The story alternates between Arden’s past, as narrated by her in an attempt to prove her innocence, and the present told from Virgil’s point of view. Arden tells her complicated story well, the part of the past that follows her, and the fascinating insights about life on the road, the illusions and how they worked.  And yet throughout I was left wondering how real her account is. Is she playing for time until she can make her escape or is she telling the truth about everything that happened? Virgil can’t decide whether he believes her or not, but he’s not in good place and his personal and work problems begin to outweigh his professionalism.

I had mixed feelings by the end of the book, more good than not though. I love Arden’s story and the fact some of the characters and events are real. The description of the fire at the Iroquois theatre is masterfully written and the reality of Adelaide Herrmann lends authenticity to the story. The things that didn’t work so well for me are the lack of noticeable character development, the fact the villain was able to recover from one kill stroke but not the other and the ending was a little disappointing. But it’s a fascinating approach to a very interesting subject. Both narrators were excellent.

Please click on the book cover for Amazon UK and click here for Amazon US.

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review,  The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family on the East Coast. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a weekly or monthly pick by Indie Next, LibraryReads, People Magazine, SheReads, PopSugar, Publishers Weekly, the Boston Globe, and

9 thoughts on “The Magician’s Lie

  1. I love historical novels. It is obvious that MacAllister put in the research time to make this story ring true of the early 1900’s.

    The plot and the story were interesting. The main issue I have with the presentation is long sections of narrative, which seems to slow the pace down at times.

    The hints of real magic, with Ada having the capacity to heal, felt somewhat out of place to me. There was no explanation of why she had this gift, and the story never really explored her ability. Ada’s healing had nothing to do with advancing the story, which was good enough without trying to inject real magic into it.

    Ray’s character seemed a little thin to me. What in Ray’s history caused him to be so mean? Why did he think that he had the ability to heal? Why was he so obsessed with Ada?

    I felt that MacAllister did a good job in keeping us interested and keeping us reading. However, the ending fell a little short, as if MacAllister was rushing to end the story. What was the final fate of Ada? How did her legal problems play out? What happened with Virgil and his problem? Was he able to continue his career, or was he forced out of his sheriff position? What happened to Clyde? I know that not all stories have endings that are tied up with a bow, but for me it was too many questions for a satisfying ending.

    IMHO, not a bad book, but it was expecting something more.

    Liked by 1 person

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