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Mrs. Houdini by Victoria Kelly: A Book Review

Mrs. Houdini
Author: Victoria Kelly
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Atria Books
Release Date: March 1, 2016
Pages: 320
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: A captivating debut novel, meticulously researched and beautifully imagined, about the passionate marriage of Harry and Bess Houdini—a love story that defied death itself.

     Before escape artist Harry Houdini died, he vowed he would find a way to speak to his beloved wife Bess from beyond the grave using a coded message known only to the two of them. When a widowed Bess begins seeing this code in seemingly impossible places, it becomes clear that Harry has an urgent message to convey. Unlocking the puzzle will set Bess on a course back through the pair’s extraordinary romance, which swept the illusionist and his bride from the beaches of Coney Island, to the palaces of Budapest, to the back lots of Hollywood. When the mystery finally leads Bess to the doorstep of a mysterious young photographer, she realizes that her husband’s magic may have been more than just illusion.

     In surprising turns that weave through the uncertain days of the dawn of the twentieth century and continue into the dazzling 1920s, Mrs. Houdini is a thrilling tale that will take you deep into the heart of one of history’s greatest love stories—asking what drives people to believe in something bigger than themselves—even as it reveals the famous magician’s most remarkable feat of all.

     My Review: Harry Houdini is one of my favorite magicians of all time. I’ve read many biographies, documentaries, and do some of his card tricks to learn more about this eccentric man who seemed larger than life. When I saw that there was going to be a historical fiction novel based on Houdini’s wife, I was excited. Mrs. Houdini is often overshadowed by her elusive husband, and it was refreshing to have her in the spotlight. This novel follows two different timelines. The first timeline is when Mrs. Houdini is a widow, and she embarks on a search to bring back Houdini’s spirit. The second timeline follows Mrs. Houdini’s marriage to the infamous magician.

     Bess is a singer in a traveling circus. Within the first few hours of their first meeting between her and Harry Houdini, Harry suddenly proposes to her. Because Bess has only just met him, she is at first reluctant to agree.  Eventually, she agrees to marry him because she does not want to go back home to her mother. The two marry immediately, and she becomes Harry’s assistant. She becomes his number one supporter as he embarks on a journey to fame.

     Bess is a likable protagonist. She is impulsive, bold, clever, and observant. She is the first person to see through Houdini’s tricks. Because she married Houdini immediately after meeting him and does not know anything about him, she often ponders what her life might have been like had she refused his proposal. She wonders what she will be and what type of guy she might have married. She is also a sympathetic character. Harry oftens ignores Bess to focus on his career, and she is lonely. She wants to have children, and the fact they do not have any children hurts her immensely. However, through their marriage’s difficulties and their faults, they deeply love each other. Harry promises her that if he dies he will come back to her as a ghost. Bess sincerely believes his promise and is determined to see Harry’s ghost.

     Overall, this story is about love, friendship, and trust. The characters are very complex. Both Bess and Harry have flaws that have made some mistakes in their marriage, yet they both made up for it. The story is beautifully-written, lush, and lyrical. Mrs. Houdini is also a mystery and a ghost-story. The pacing was steady and full of suspense. I recommend this novel to anyone interested in Harry Houdini, supernatural mysteries, or love stories that transcend life and death.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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