Having read all of Kristy Cambron's previous releases, I thought I knew what I was in for with this Jazz Age, Houdini-inspired novel. I was wrong. The story broke the mold of her former novels, and through its dark and mysterious tone what shone through most brightly was light and hope.
Our story opens at a cemetery on New Year's Eve in 1926, just a few months after Harry Houdini's death. Another illusionist has declared that he will raise a man named Victor Peale from the dead, and the cemetery is full of media representatives and curious onlookers. Also in the crowd is FBI Agent Elliot Matthews, sent to keep an eye on everything. In a grand show, it does appear that Victor Peale, dead twenty years, rises from his grave -- and promptly keels over again, dead and gone for good. Agent Matthews controls the situation and begins an investigation that will take him deep into vaudeville's captivation with illusion and spiritualism.
In the crowd that day Elliot had noticed one Wren Lockhart, a former apprentice of Houdini who is an illusionist in her own right. When he discovers a link between Victor Peale and Wren, he must convince the isolated and guarded woman to share what she knows, even though it means digging deep into a past she wants to keep hidden.
Wren's troubled family background and years of living the vaudeville circuit have left her excellent at projecting her aloof and intimidating demeanor. She doesn't want to get involved with the FBI, but she also doesn't want frauds and tricksters deceiving the public into thinking raising the dead is a thing one can do. She was with Houdini as he debunked such people in the past, and she grudgingly agrees to help Elliot for the sake of her mentor and to keep the authorities from prying more than they have to.
While Wren took me by surprise as a character, seeming at first too hard to get to know, I soon began to relate to her more than ever anticipated. Despite pushing people away, inside there was a woman who had been hurt and yet was brave and strong. This story was partially about Wren discovering how to overcome and live unafraid. A lot of it was her choice. "It was her choice how she lived, whether she'd carry the burden of bitterness... or allow truth to soothe the gaping wounds between them." (Page 196)
Some of my favorite quotes were about heroes. The theme of being a hero was strong in the second half of the novel, which also resonated with me. From Chapter 18: "Our mother used to say that a hero doesn't always have to slay a dragon to save the day. Sometimes he just walks through the fire alongside you, and that's enough." And from page 287: "If there was no darkness, there would be no opportunity for light to overcome it. This is the time for heroes to rise, okay?"
This story was not what I expected. It was more, and it will stay with me for a long time.
I received my copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions in this review are my own.