There is nothing usual about the Amazing Arden.  A female illusionist in the 1900s, where such a thing is a rarity, she cuts a man in half every night.

But one night, after the show, a dead man is found.  She flees, and luck, or perhaps fate, throws her into the path of the sheriff of a neighboring town.  Instead of turning her in, Officer Virgil Holt takes her to his own office with the intention of using her capture to prove his usefulness despite a well-hidden, but debilitating wound.

This is, in some ways, the frame in which the real story sits.  During the interrogation, Arden tells the whole of her own story, an unbelievable and complex thing filled with luck, hope, and love.  It is a story about magic, but it is told in a pragmatic, practical light.  The chapters between the slices of Arden’s history are, the some ways, out chance to take a breath as Virgil voices our opinions.  They are tense, because Arden is trying to convince him to let her go free.

I liked both halves of the story.  I’ll admit, it’s not what I expected.  This is not really a mystery to be solved with detective work and forensics.  The reader spends time wondering if she is the killer, the victim, or a madwoman – but the resolution of that is the story she tells, not through sought out evidence.  It is beautifully told, I loved the slice of late 1800’s/early 1900’s history and life, the bits about illusions and how she built her career.  I also enjoyed the interplay between Arden and Virgil – often I am tempted to race through the secondary story, but this was well written and I wanted to read it and see what was happening there.

So, the take away.  This is an excellent historical novel.  The characters and place are drawn extremely well, you feel like you are there.  I really enjoyed it.

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