On Friday evening I went to see The Magic Showcase, a group of four magicians who perform in sequence over the course of an evening. Actually, I’ve just looked up the collective term for a group of magicians and it turns out it’s an Illusion, appropriately enough.
The show was organised by one of the illusionists performing, Tom Wright, and also included Dave Burns, Arron Jones, and John Morton. The event was held to raise money for Hulland Community Pre-School. If the packed house and crowded bar was anything to go by, they should have achieved their aim.
It’s a long time since I’ve watched any sleight of hand, and then it was by fellow mystery author James Swain, who is noted to be one of the best card-handlers out there.
This show was great fun, and the four performers were not above taking the rip out of the audience in the name of an easy laugh. I was surprised to be picked out, as for some reason in the past I’ve always managed to put out a ‘don’t pick on me’ vibe. I must be mellowing in my old age. Still, when Arron Jones asked me what I did for a living and I answered, “I’m a crime writer,” he paused a moment and then said, “I can’t think of anything funny to say about that…”
Going to watch The Magic Showcase was as much for research purposes as for anything else. An idea has been germinating in the back of my mind for a while with legerdemain, deception, and misdirection as main parts of the story. I wanted to see it for myself, live and up close. Some bits I could spot, but others remained thoroughly intriguing bits of mystery.
One piece from the show highlighted a feeling I had for this story—whatever it eventually turns into. John Morton put two envelopes, A and B, onto stands on the stage. He picked out an audience member and told them that one envelope contained a £50 note, and the other a lottery ticket. The guy chose A. Morton then put an X sticker on the A envelope and a smiley emoticon sticker on the B envelope, all the while asking if the man was sure, and didn’t want to change his mind. Periodically during his set, he would ask again if the man was certain of his decision, hinting that he’d got the wrong one. When it came to making his final choice, the man changed his mind and opted for envelope B. Sure enough, that contained the lottery ticket and the A envelope contained the cash. I’m sure, had the man gone for that one at the beginning, Morton’s patter would have been subtly different. And I’m sure it would still have ended up with the magician keeping hold of his money. Psychological mind games are a fascinating part of the act.
To a certain extent, when we write, crime and mystery authors try to accomplish the same sleight of hand with words—or should that be legerdemot? We throw a clue into the mix but try to distract the reader from what it is with a flourish of description or action at the same time. The more accomplished the wordsmith, the less likely the move is to be noticed. It all has to be smooth and seamless and entertaining.
Just like magic.
This week’s Word of the Week is prestidigitation, which means conjuring tricks performed as entertainment. The word comes from the French preste (from the Italian presto) meaning nimble or quick, and the Latin for finger, digitus.