My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Daniel Stashower is an accomplished author who has written prolifically on the 19th and early 20th century eras. A magician himself, it is perhaps natural that he writes of Harry Houdini, the acclaimed stage magician and escapist of the early 20th century. Houdini is perhaps best known for his promise to his wife Bess that he would if at all possible send her a sign after his demise. Bess was his stage partner, and in “The Dime Museum Murders,” his younger brother, “Dash” Hardeen-now in his eighties-recounts his and Harry’s early years in New York City, as Houdini strove to break into “big-time” stage show business.
Harry Houdini had done fairly well on the small-town tour (promoted by his brother “Dash”) but New York City was already suffused with show business, so he had to take employment while trying to “break in.” Dash found him work at what was called a “Dime Museum,” the kind of activity that in a carnival or fair was called a “ten-in-one,” a line-up of “freaks” or other attractions past which a crowd, having paid admission in advance, is quickly routed.
As well as enjoyable writing and good depths of characterization, I enjoyed this mystery for the period details and references. Mr. Stashower is an excellent historian of this era, and really brings it vividly to life for modern readers who quite possibly can’t imagine the slow pace of life “back then,” but yet who share emotions, drives, and motives in common with our historical predecessors. Set side by side, they are individuals much like ourselves, just without the trappings of contemporary society, and novels like this make that abundantly clear.
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