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The Role of Magicians in Mystery Fiction

The misdirection a mystery author uses when constructing a satisfying novel is quite similar to the misdirection a stage magician uses when creating a successful trick. The parallels are especially clear in a particular style of mystery: locked-room mysteries, aka impossible crimes.

We know “real” magic doesn’t exist, yet stage magicians fool our senses when we’re convinced we’ve witnessed something impossible. If a magician has done their job, we believe we’ve witnessed a miracle. Stage magicians are perfect sleuths for impossible crime mysteries because they’re primed to think through all the possibilities for creating the illusion of the impossible under a similar set of circumstances.

My love of magic began with the mystery fiction I read as a kid. I loved mysteries of all kinds, including the Golden Age of detective fiction, when stage magicians and puzzle plot mysteries like locked-room mysteries were incredibly popular. The second short story I ever wrote was a locked-room mystery featuring a stage magician (Sanjay Rai, who performs as The Hindi Houdini), which is when I realized what a perfect skill-set a magician has for solving seemingly impossible crimes. I’ve since written many more locked-room mysteries with Sanjay as the sleuth, and my latest novel, Under Lock & Skeleton Key, features stage illusionist Tempest Raj, who must solve a locked-room mystery to prove that there’s no such thing as the Raj family curse that has plagued her family for generations.

Here are some of my favorite mysteries involving stage magicians who use their knowledge of misdirection to solve seemingly impossible crimes:

 

 

On the cozier end of the mystery spectrum, John Gaspard’s humorous Eli Marks mystery series features Eli Marks, who makes his living as a magician and keeps finding himself pulled into solving crimes. Each of the books in the series is named after a magic trick. In The Miser’s Dream, Eli sees a dead body in a building across the street, but when the police arrive they find the room locked from the inside. The plot is filled with sleight of hand, and the solution is terrific.

I hope you’ll have fun exploring these locked-room mysteries featuring magician sleuths, as well as many more.


About the Author

Gigi Pandian is a USA Today bestselling and award-winning mystery author, breast cancer survivor, and accidental almost-vegan. The child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India, she spent her childhood being dragged around the world on their research trips, which inspired her fiction. She writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and Secret Staircase mysteries. She’s been awarded Agatha, Anthony, Lefty, and Derringer awards, and is a co-founder of Crime Writers of Color. Her latest novel is locked-room mystery Under Lock & Skeleton Key, featuring a stage magician as the sleuth. Learn more and sign up for her email newsletter (which includes a free locked-room mystery story) at www.gigipandian.com.