Los Angeles-based attorney and occasional mystery novelist Don Passman found a way to utilize magic – one of his personal passions – with fiction in the creation of Harvey Kendall, the protagonist of his latest novel.
THE AMAZING HARVEY is a lightweight, mostly enjoyable story that suffers slightly from a plodding pace and a resolution so improbable that it takes a bit of – well, magic! – to make it work.
Harvey Kendall is a professional magician; but since he isn’t successful at it to fully support himself he takes jobs as a substitute teacher to make sure the rent and other bills are paid. One morning, as he is about to begin substitute teaching an English class, he is interrupted by a pair of plain-clothes police officers. They tell Harvey that his sperm was found in the body of a recently murdered woman, and thus he is the main suspect in the murder investigation.
But Harvey swears never met the slain woman and it’s all a huge mistake. To prove his innocence Harvey knows he must have legal representation .He seeks the help of a former high school classmate named Hannah Fisher who is now a lawyer and offers to work in her office to help pay for her representation.
Harvey uses every available moment during his working day to investigate the murder – both with and without Hannah’s help. Yet the more he learns about the murdered woman, the more the evidence stacks up against him.
The opening chapter is energetic and very funny. Ironically, however, as events and secondary characters are introduced, the plot slows to a crawl. Simple encounters take forever to unfold and then hardly seem worth the time or effort. It isn’t until the concluding chapters that the pace regains its strength.
Balancing this – and almost allowing us to forgive the slowness – is Passman’s undeniably credible characters. This is especially true of Harvey, whose sarcastic first-person narration guides the events and enhances even the slower moments with memorable, smart-aleck observations. Not surprisingly his professional ability to see what others overlook is essential to solving the mystery. Hannah seems at first a bit obnoxious and pushy. That is until we discover more about her past and two secrets in particular that define her personality.
Perhaps most enjoyable and revealing is the peek inside the world of professional magic Passman provides. It’s a world of fierce competition and camaraderie, as well as mutual admiration for the field’s standard-bearers – with such well-known names as Blackstone, Houdini, and more recently, Copperfield. Additionally Passman makes wonderful use of The Magic Castle, an actual private club in Hollywood whose members are either professional magicians or specially invited members who have contributed to the world of magic.
But it’s the resolution, when it finally occurs, that is perhaps the novel’s biggest fault. Passman prepares us with seeds planted periodically throughout the plot. Yet when it makes its full appearance it seems so incredible and oddly desperate that it adds as much confusion as it tries to clear up. (So much so that Passman himself feel obligated to justify it in his “Author’s Notes” following the conclusion.) Sadly it throws a dubious shadow over the entire story.
If you’re looking for a pleasant, humorous break between relentlessly depressing novels, regardless of their genre, you could do far worse than THE AMAZING HARVEY. It might also result in you to paying closer attention to that magician you see on some TV variety show; or even make you a bit more sympathetic to that poor slob performing at some birthday party or out-of-town convention.
That in itself is magic! —Alan Cranis