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Publishers Weekly, 2006-07-10 Fleischman's (The Whipping Boy) colorful, anecdotal biography of Harry Houdini (1874-1926) offers an accessible portrait of this master of magic and escape. The author sets an affectionate and humorous tone, beginning with his subject's most famous feats, and then declaring, "As a devout magician, I am able to reveal only that I may not reveal Houdini's secrets." Fleischman neatly sorts out facts, speculation and legend as he traces the performer's career, from his early stints in vaudeville, with a circus and traveling medicine show and even, along with his wife and on-stage sidekick, Bess, "a part-time career as ghost wranglers and mind-reading fakers." A savvy self-promoter, Houdini made headlines through such successful challenges as breaking out of a Chicago jail cell, yet, Fleischman wryly notes, his "sudden fame was written in vanishing ink." After securing a solid reputation in Europe, the "monarch of manacles" became a stage sensation and financial success in this country as well, with some of his more famous feats, such as escaping from a straitjacket while suspended upside-down from a building. A "teenage conjuror" and former vaudevillian himself, Fleischman brings an insider's sensibility to Houdini's story (after Houdini's death, he came to know Bess, who "became a sort of den mother to us young enthusiasts"). One gets the sense that the author delved into his subject for his own enjoyment, and brings readers along for an entertaining ride. Copious photographs help flesh out Houdini's robust, larger-than-life personality and underscore the range and audacity of his exploits. Ages 9-up. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Publishers Weekly, 2007-05-21 In this breezy biography, Newbery Medalist Fleischman, himself a former magician, pays homage to Harry Houdini-the man and the myth. Audio actor Mali, an expert at suspense and tension, is the right man for the narration. Through blood, sweat and tears-and the love of a good woman-poor Jewish immigrant Ehrich Weiss transforms himself into Harry Houdini, one of magic's greatest showmen. Mali unfurls the historical material with ease, matching the author's relaxed prose style. He savors the period details and vaudevillian language: "razz-matazz," "bamboozled," "flim-flammery." Mali renders the array of increasingly dangerous stunts-the Metamorphosis, the Indian Needle Trick and the Chinese Water Torture Cell-with such a sense of showmanship that listeners may feel themselves part of the audience. Fleischman doesn't reveal any of the escape king's secrets but does debunk some of the better-known myths. Mali's fresh and versatile voice also captures Houdini's indignation at his pesky imitators and disdain for fraud spiritualists. His outsize ego and thin skin are brought to life, too. The photographs included in the print version (from Fleischman's personal collection via Bess Houdini, the magician's widow and Fleischman's one-time mentor) would have been a welcome supplement. A now aged and raspy-voiced Fleischman reads the preface and last chapter, bookending an engaging narrative. Ages 9-up. (Mar.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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