Boston, 1926. Jenny "Wren" Lockhart is a bold eccentric--even for a female vaudevillian. As notorious for her inherited wealth and gentleman's dress as she is for her unsavory upbringing in the back halls of a vaudeville theater, Wren lives in a world that challenges all manner of conventions.
In the months following Houdini's death, Wren is drawn into a web of mystery surrounding a spiritualist by the name of Horace Stapleton, a man defamed by Houdini's ardent debunking of fraudulent mystics in the years leading up to his death. But in a public illusion that goes terribly wrong, one man is dead and another stands charged with his murder. Though he's known as one of her teacher's greatest critics, Wren must decide to become the one thing she never wanted to be: Stapleton's defender.
Forced to team up with the newly formed FBI, Wren races against time and an unknown enemy, all to prove the innocence of a hated man. In a world of illusion, of the vaudeville halls that showcase the flamboyant and the strange, Wren's carefully constructed world threatens to collapse around her. Layered with mystery, illusion, and the artistry of the Jazz Age's bygone vaudeville era, The Illusionist's Apprentice is a journey through love and loss and the underpinnings of faith on each life's stage.
This is Kristy Cambron’s fourth novel, and I am really hoping it signals a permanent change in direction. That’s not to say her first three novels weren’t any good—they were. The first two were dual timeline stories with a present-day plot that linked back to Hitler’s Germany They weren’t exactly my preferred happy-ever-after (see above comment re: Hitler’s Germany), but they were excellent. Her third novel also moved around in time, but was primarily a historical romance set against a backdrop of Ringling Bros. Circus. I’ve read and reviewed them all, and they were all excellent.
The Illusionist’s Apprentice takes what was good about each of Cambron’s earlier novels and steps it up a notch. It’s said that we are each a combination of the five people we spend the most time with. Well, Cambron is now keeping company with some of the giants of the Christian suspense world, and it shows. She thanks Robyn Carroll, Colleen Coble, Lynette Eason, Ronie Kendig, Michelle Lim, and Carrie Stuart Parks with helping her brainstorm … and it shows.
Wren Lockhart is an illusionist, apprenticed under Harry Houdini himself. Like Harry, she has never believed in people coming back from the dead (with the obvious exception of Jesus), so she’s more than sceptical when she visits a graveyard one New Year’s Eve to watch a man be raised from the dead. But she’s as surprised as anyone when a man climbs out of the grave … and promptly dies.
FBI agent Elliot Matthews is also in attendance, and now finds himself in charge of a murder investigation. While no one knows the identity of who died in the graveyard that night, it’s obvious that a man was alive and talking and then he wasn’t. It’s equally obvious that something untoward happened.
Elliott approaches Wren for help, but that doesn’t go as planned when they are pushed together at a society party and followed home by live bullets. But were they aiming at Elliot … or at Wren? Why? Is it related to the death in the graveyard or something else? And what?
The Illusionist’s Apprentice follows some of the pattern of Cambron’s earlier novels, as we are shown some of Wren’s background through well-placed flashbacks. But it’s also definitely a suspense novel, as the flashbacks gave both all the clues necessary to identify the evildoer and their motive … and none of the clues. The ending was a complete surprise, completely logical, and completely satisfying.
Overall, The Illusionist’s Apprentice was an excellent historical suspense/murder with a pleasing romantic subplot, and some fascinating insights into the world of magic and illusion. Recommended.
Thanks to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review.
About Reviewer Iola Goulton:
I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog. I'm a Top 25 Reviewer at Christian Book, in the Top 1% of reviewers at Goodreads, and have an Amazon US Reviewer Rank that floats around 5,000 (and I'm in the Top 50 at Amazon Australia).