The Houdini Girl

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In Martyn Bedford’s The Houdini Girl, a disturbing mystery from the author of the psychological thriller Acts of Revision (1996), professional magician Fletcher Brandon traces eighteen months he spent living with the recently murdered Rosa Kelly. The temperamental and sometimes volatile Rosa had left Brandon and was travelling to Amsterdam when she either jumped or was pushed from a moving train. After Rosa’s death, Brandon learns that the rare bits of personal and family history she had grudgingly revealed to him were lies. When the police determine that Rosa was murdered, the grieving magician embarks on an obsessive and dangerous trek to discover who his girlfriend really was and why she was killed.

Rosa’s own voice is heard intermittently, expressing first the confusion and despair of an abused child and then the grim cynicism of a woman who has narrowly escaped a hellish life. Rosa eventually admits that, in spite of her natural suspicion and outward dismissal of Brandon’s love, he has become the center of her world.

The novel plays with truth and illusion; the magician prides himself on his ability to misdirect an audience (and of course, the reader) and insists that he never reveals how a trick is done. He describes the many ways he can make his stage assistant, The Lovely Kim, disappear and reappear—destroyed and resurrected—at his command; but the Rosa Kelly he knew will not be resurrected. Brandon ultimately realizes that Rosa had him mystified; he saw only what she chose to reveal about herself, and in the end she was the better magician.