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Houdini's Last Illusion
Steve Savile
Telos, 96 pages

Houdini's Last Illusion
Steve Savile
Steve Savile's early influences include Peter Cushing and Boris Karloff, H.P. Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long and August Derleth. He knew that what he wanted to do was write. In 1993, he was a co-winner of Exuberance's Year's Best poll and sold to Fear and Frighteners a handful of his short stories and a novella. He used to live in the North of England but now lives in Stockholm.

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A review by Nathan Brazil


'The bird had obviously found what it had been looking for, because he was beginning to remember things he had never known.'
Houdini's Last Illusion is an A5 paperback novella, written by a Geordie school teacher who has been living in Sweden for the past eight years. Some of his time, as evinced by this work, was spent researching the great Harry Houdini. I requested this title as I'd previously read a biography of Houdini, and found it fascinating. Mainly because he was one the very few famous individuals able to live up to his own legend. Steve Savile treats this mythology with all due respect, and has a style which blends nicely subdued reverence for Houdini and all his works, with spot-on characterisation. The story reads almost as if it might be a lost episode from the electrifying life of the world's most celebrated escapologist.

Some years ago, ethereal British singer songwriter Kate Bush recorded a tribute track on her album The Dreaming, in which she sang 'Not even eternity can hold Houdini.' Whether Steve Savile has heard this track is unknown, but the premise of Houdini's Last Illusion is the master magician's will to make the greatest escape of all; the evasion of death itself. How he sets about accomplishing this is as simple yet ingenious as many of his genuine tricks. Houdini, in reality and in this story, thrived on publicity which described what he did as magic. Although he always said that his show was not supernatural, he cleverly encouraged others to believe the deceit of their own eyes. So good was he at casting this spell, that even his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle concluded that while Houdini did not claim to be magical, he must possess powers beyond those of mortal men. Houdini's Last Illusion does a fine job of capturing the man's mystique, as well as the subtle amusement he felt when he was able to fool large crowds, and up close, beguile all manner of experts.

The fantasy element of this story concerns why Houdini is apparently still alive, many years after an escape went wrong, and he drowned in the river Seine. Savile's character has the ability to divide his soul, placing small parts of it into objects. In the main, these take the forms of two birds, one a white dove the other a blackbird which is sent out in search of the truth. When Houdini performs, we get a clear behind the scenes view of what made him so superior to any other stage magician, before or since his time.

This Houdini is a man who is already seventeen years dead, but who somehow managed to cheat the Grim Reaper. If only for a finite time. As the truth becomes apparent, the ghosts of thirteen former magicians, all at one point or another idolised by Houdini, have returned to claim him. One offers a personal warning, and tells Erich Weiss -- Houdini's real name -- that his time is finally drawing to a close. During the famous Chinese Water Torture Chamber escape, the dead will take his soul. Naturally, the man once called the King of America has other plans.

Copyright © 2005 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at

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