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The lady vanishes52 Ways to Magic Americaby James Flint398pp Fourth EstateWhats left for fiction when magical realism fades One plain answer would seem to be magic itself The last couple of years have suddenly produced some fine novels about stage magicians - not only last years Guardian first book prize contender Carter Beats the Devil but also Martyn Bedfords haunting The Houdini Girl Now James Flint casts a matching spell His 52 Ways is a picaresque tale of times just past which blends social history and free-wheeling imagination with beady-eyed description It has a unique tang to itOur hero a skinny youth called Marty Quick dreams of doing a David Copperfield or Blaine playing Las Vegas But Nevada is a long long way from Beckenham Marty leaving his teens behind works the talent competitions and cabaret clubs of provincial England He summers at Pontins and winters on cruise ships Hes good but maybe not that good You have to be really exceptional to be the joker who breaks free from this packQuick and his beautiful lady assistant Terri a dead ringer for Princess Diana need something extra if theyre ever to top the bill Enter Jill from Morecambe a lady of the twilight if not the night whos also a Di lookalike Double the potential mystery as well as double the nooky At last Marty can build his illusions as big as his ambitionsBut Jill has a drug habit and Terri is prone to yellow mists as Di Two supplants Di One in the maestros bed When the original Di dies in a twisted heap of metal in a Paris underpass the act - like the friendships that hold it together - falls apart Marty has nothing left up his sleeve except plodding failure And then comes New Labour and the new magic of the internetFlint - as he showed a couple of years ago in his first novel Habitus - writes witty surging
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