Magicians in Mysteries
Like mystery novelists, magicians deceive and surprise. When you read a mystery novel or attend a magic show, you’re signing up to be surprised.
Stage magicians have a long history in mystery fiction, especially locked-room “impossible crime” stories. They’re a natural for the genre because they’re masters of illusion. Of course, a magician’s deception is meant to entertain, not to conceal a crime. But these skills or deception overlap, making magicians the ultimate detectives.
Clayton Rawson, a mystery author who wrote during the Golden Age of detective fiction in the 1930s and ‘40s, created The Great Merlini, a magician character who solves impossible crimes in four novels and over a dozen short stories. John Dickson Carr, the master of locked-room mysteries, didn’t have a recurring magician character, but he featured them in many of his books. These days, several mystery authors write about magicians, from Daniel Stashower’s clever mystery series featuring Harry Houdini to practicing magician Andrew Mayne’s new series about magician-turned-FBI agent Jessica Blackwood.
Much like in a surprising stage show, I love that sense of wonder that comes with a seemingly-impossible feat that’s based in reality as opposed to a supernatural explanation.
I didn’t set out to write two mystery series involved stage magicians. But based on my love of fair play puzzle plot mysteries, those masters of illusion were a perfect fit. They demanded more space in my stories than I’d intended, and I started writing locked-room mystery short stories featuring The Hindi Houdini so he wouldn’t take over my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery series where he’s the side-kick!
In my latest novel, Quicksand, not one but two of the main characters are magicians. Jaya Jones’ best friend Sanjay, aka The Hindi Houdini, and a 90-year-old retired stage magician both help her outsmart the villains that tricked her into help robbing the Louvre.
And in my new Accidental Alchemist mystery series, I followed in Daniel Stashower’s footsteps and selected a real-life magician as one of the characters in the series. Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, known as the Father of Modern Magic, plays a key role in the backstory of The Accidental Alchemist, and I had so much fun creating the backstory that I wrote him into the second book in a much bigger way, including a whole section of the book set during his lifetime in the 1800s.
Surprise! I’m now a mystery author who writes about magicians. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Quicksand: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery
A thousand-year-old secret room. A sultan’s stolen treasure. A missing French priest. And an invitation to Paris to rekindle an old flame…
Historian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of enigmatic Lane Peters and a 90-year-old stage magician, Jaya delves into France’s colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.
Gigi Pandian is the USA Today bestselling author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the new Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist). Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut mystery by Suspense Magazine. The follow-up, Pirate Vishnu, was awarded the Rose Award (at Left Coast Crime just last week!), and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards. Gigi spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.
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