The Bullet Trick is a story of darkness and night, where depravity lurks in the theatres of London and on the pavements of Glasgow and Berlin, the gloomy streets filled with danger and menace. Cynical Scotsman William Wilson, a down-on-his-luck mentalist and illusionist, feels quite at home in this world of drunks and harlots, striptease artists, petty criminals and corrupt cops.
Mired in gambling debt and a fondness for heavy drinking, William has been trying to scrape together enough money just to survive in his hometown of Glasgow. He's inexplicably intent
on drinking himself to death, favoring pubs with no mission other than to "empty your pockets, fill you full of bile and kick you into the street at closing time."
William's troubles began in London as he toiled through the British comedy circuit – "the warm up for a whole trough of comedians and standups." He finds himself doing a magic act in a Soho Night Club owned by petty criminal Bill Noon and his young boyfriend, Sam. Bill requests that William perform for a macho police crowd celebrating the retirement of Chief Inspector Montgomery.
Of course, Bill has an ulterior motive: he would like nothing better than to know what the bent Inspector Mongomery has on his dad. The Chief has also promised to tell Bill the truth about his mother, Gloria, gone missing back in 1970, her fate never discovered.
Bill gets William to pick-pocket the Inspector, hoping that an envelope he has in his possession will perhaps hold the key to unlocking the mystery of what really happened to
his parents. Suddenly, however, William finds himself stuck with the goods, this vital document becoming both his insurance and the bait to his eventual downfall.
With a job offer at the seedy Schall und Rauch theatre in Berlin, William escapes to Germany.
There he meets Sylvie, an American exotic dancer who becomes his muse and partner in crime. Meanwhile, Montgomery is out there somewhere, eager to get his hands on the evidence that might damn him.
Montgomery eventually follows William to Berlin, where the contents of the envelope become responsible for everything horrible that happens to William. William thinks he has ended up committing an act of murder, which Montgomery somehow knows about, just as William has figured out Montgomery's terrible crime from years back.
In flashes of the past, William reveals he's a man with a mission. Although he may have aged into a thirty-three-year-old trickster "standing before dead-eyed hotel mirrors," he's still a man hungry for applause and a master to any deception. As the time of reckoning comes, the policeman and the magician square off and find out just how far both are willing to go.
Author Louise Welsh writes a compelling murder mystery, excelling in her descriptions of these amoral characters who exist on the fringes of society, often marginalized with no prospects and very little to lose; cheap sex, lots of drugs and violence seem to be an irrevocable part of their lives.
It's a world defined by hazy disco lights, cigarette smoke that shelves the air, and rooms that often smell of alcohol, testosterone and sweat. William schemes, worries, and composes new ruses, yet in Sylvie he recognizes another lonely soul, a kindred spirit thrust into a harsh environment.
William and Sylvie are drawn together into a quagmire of moral uncertainty that is inextricably linked to the subculture of strip bars and nightclub acts where one hand inevitably washes the other, and where the "bullet trick," the death-defying illusion destined for the grand finale, is made all too real.