Sunday, October 11, 2015

Spiritualism vs. Houdini

The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World – David Jahar (Crown Books)

What is at the root of our fascination with Harry Houdini? We have had a number of biopics; the original Tony Curtis classic, a handful of made of TV versions featuring Wil Wheaton (?), Paul Michael Glasser (of Starsky and Hutch fame) Artie Johnson (Laugh In!) and more recently Adrien Brody in a well done mini-series. Add to the mix a shelf full of biographies and we still can’t get enough of the mysterious magician and escape artist.

Enter David Jahar and his debut outing, The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World, which is a fascinating account of Houdini’s encounters with the beautiful wife of a high profile Boston surgeon who had become the focus of what would become a national debate of spiritualism.

While the Brody mini-series touched on this story, Jahar delves deeply into not only the history of the story, but also into the topic of spiritualism in the setting of the era post-World War I. He does a spectacular job of drawing the characters, the settings and the scenes with an amazing clarity and focus that will draw you into the story.

Jahar captures the legend of Houdini and propels it forward by building enough of the history of Houdini for context, but without losing site of the story he sets out to tell. The cast of folks he touches on along the way including the known, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the unknown alike, to add to the context of the era.

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