Extract from Chrysler Szarlan's THE HAWLEY BOOK OF THE DEAD

Here's an extract from Chrysler Szarlan's The Hawley Book of the Dead, courtesy of the folks at Random House. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Here's the blurb:

For fans of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and A Discovery of Witches comes a brilliantly imagined debut novel brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic.

Revelation “Reve” Dyer grew up with her grandmother’s family stories, stretching back centuries to Reve’s ancestors, who founded the town of Hawley Five Corners, Massachusetts. Their history is steeped in secrets, for few outsiders know that an ancient magic runs in the Dyer women’s blood, and that Reve is a magician whose powers are all too real.

Reve and her husband are world-famous Las Vegas illusionists. They have three lovely young daughters, a beautiful home, and what seems like a charmed life. But Reve’s world is shattered when an intruder alters her trick pistol and she accidentally shoots and kills her beloved husband onstage.

Fearing for her daughters’ lives, Reve flees with them to the place she has always felt safest—an antiquated farmhouse in the forest of Hawley Five Corners, where the magic of her ancestors reigns, and her oldest friend—and first love—is the town’s chief of police. Here, in the forest, with its undeniable air of enchantment, Reve hopes she and her girls will be protected.

Delving into the past for answers, Reve is drawn deeper into her family’s legends. What she discovers is The Hawley Book of the Dead, an ancient leather-bound journal holding mysterious mythic power. As she pieces together the truth behind the book, Reve will have to shield herself and her daughters against an uncertain, increasingly dangerous fate. For soon it becomes clear that the stranger who upended Reve’s life in Las Vegas has followed her to Hawley—and that she has something he desperately wants.

Brimming with rich history, suspense, and magic, The Hawley Book of the Dead is a brilliantly imagined debut novel from a riveting new voice.


I arrived at the theater early, just after four. I walked under the ladder of a man updating the marquee. The Bijoux was an old theater, and we liked to keep some things a little old-fashioned to match its age. We hadn’t yet gone completely digital, like most of the Strip. The marquee proclaimed the great revelation and the maskelyne mind—the amazing maske lynes’ venetian carnevale—mascherari.

When Jeremy and I began our act together, we played small houses, just the two of us, sometimes even bars and the occasional wedding. The basis of magic is a good story, and the stories we told at first were simple, like the Something Out of Nothing story, turning thin air into doves or ravens, always adding something a little disruptive, lovely, or large. We worked our way up, and in time the illusions got bigger and more splen did. We built enough of a reputation and audience to justify leasing our own theater. We discovered the Bijoux then, the magical elements still in place after all its incarnations.

The Bijoux’s history mirrored the unsettled nature of our ever-changing city in the desert. Originally a vaudeville house built in 1913 on Fremont Street, it was revamped for magic when Harry Houdini came through, and trapdoors for every possible purpose were installed. In a fit of nostal gia, its owner moved it to the Strip in the 1960s, when Fremont Street was dying, and the Bijoux was repurposed as a supper club. Then the New York–New York Casino was built around it, and it became a movie palace under the Statue of Liberty. When we leased it for our shows, we added lighting and fly elements. We built a turntable to revolve sets, and a huge lift. But much of the theater remained the way we’d found it, mysterious. The feeling prevailed that at any moment the ghost of Houdini or Al Jol son or Judy Garland might wander by.

An ancient man let us in through the stage door the day we first viewed it. He wore a stained red cardigan, faded overalls, and bedroom slippers. His hair was cropped short, his pink scalp showing through the white stubble. His eyes shone silver, clouded with cataracts. He locked the door behind us and shuffled down the hall without a word. He motioned to us to follow.

He led us backstage, through a maze of fraying curtains. Racks of se quined costumes bloomed with dust, last worn by chorus girls who were now grandmothers. Steamer trunks were stacked or spilled open, revealing the stage props of another age: top hats and bouquets of disintegrating paper flowers. A ventriloquist’s dummy stared at us with his shrewd doll’s eyes. The old man stopped at the edge of the stage but signaled us to walk onto it. Then he threw a switch and we stood blinking out at the candy box house, row upon row of velvet seats, gold balconies.

I jumped when he spoke. “You’re standing on a trapdoor built for Harry Houdini. 1921. Of course, Houdini wasn’t a true magician. Really only an escape artist.” He said it dismissively. “I saw Devant’s ‘Asrah’ here. Now that was magic. The lady I fell in love with was his assistant. 1919. And Chung Ling Soo was here, when I was a boy. 1914. Performed one of the greatest illusions I’ve ever seen. The one that finally killed him.”

Jeremy and I glanced at each other, and I knew with the sure knowl edge of the married that he was thinking the same thing I was. If this man was telling the truth, he’d have been over a hundred years old.

“Born with the century. December thirty-first, 1899.” Maybe the old guy had a career as a psychic. “Never did see your great-great-grandfather, John Nevil,” he said to Jeremy. “But your great-uncle played this theater. 1923.”

Jeremy was descended from a magical family. Jeremy’s great-great-grandfather, John Nevil Maskelyne, had been one of the few innovators in the long history of magic. He invented magical levitation, and when he retired, he sold that trick and others for an obscene amount of money. Some descendants of John Nevil struggled to make magic pay, squander ing their inheritance from the Original Levitating Girl on magic ephem era, on water torture boxes and fancy dress for the stage and hiring the prettiest assistants. But Jeremy’s grandfather and father coddled their share of John Nevil’s profit. They shunned the stage, were bankers both, per formed another kind of magic by making money appear. Jeremy didn’t grow up with the magical arts as a kind of second language, touring England and the Continent with magician parents as some of his cousins had. But when he was a boy, in the attic of the family home in Devon shire, he came across an old leather-bound book, scratched and shredding, full of odd symbols and drawings of elaborate machinery, written in code it would take him months to decipher. One of John Nevil’s magic note books. It was Jeremy’s start in stage magic, the start of his journey to Las Vegas, to me, and then the Bijoux. John Nevil Maskelyne’s history was the spark to our success as magicians, in the tiny minority who actually made a living from magic. The old man seemed to know all about it.

On that first day in what would become our theater, Jeremy told him, “You have the advantage of us, I’m afraid.”

He extended a gnarled hand for Jeremy to shake. “Pleased to meet you. Wesley Knowles. Otherwise known as one of the Five Chinese Brothers. Not Chinese, not even Asian. Not brothers. Don’t expect you ever heard of us. We were tumblers and jugglers. Minor act. Stopped performing after the Oriental craze went bust with the country. 1929. I stayed on here. Marooned. Before Vegas was even Vegas, only a railroad town. I’m the sole survivor. Now the oldest living authority on theatrical magic of the twentieth century. Last magic act to play this house was Blackstone. The father, not the son. 1957. Until you, that is. If you stay. Hope you do. Bring the magic back.”

Wesley had a keen knowledge of every trick or illusion ever performed, and often gave us ideas, solving problems we came up against with simple and elegant machinations. For he stayed with us or, rather, with the the ater. He had rooms above the stage. As far as we could tell, he never left the building. Wesley was frail but not decrepit, whatever his age. If he was 103 when we met him, he would have been 113 on the day Jeremy died. He was there on that day of the lilacs. He always was.

From the book THE HAWLEY BOOK OF THE DEAD by Chrysler Szarlan.  Reprinted by arrangement with Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. Copyright © 2014 by Chrysler Szarlan.

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