Vanishing Act is about the struggle between a well-established magician who finds that his former protégée has not only surpassed him but has acquired a messianic complex.
Harold Botkin (aka The Great Botkin), illusionist extraordinaire, has made a career of exposing fraudulent mediums and psychics. He has even declared that he will pay $10,000 to anyone who can provide legitimate psychic abilities. So far he hasn’t had to ante up - until he meets Jesse St. Germain, a charismatic young man possessing a desire to learn magic and possibly an unstable nature. Jesse and Botkin work together for Jesse to be seen as a psychic, but the fraud takes on a life of its own as Jesse acquires a cult following, an inflated ego and many enemies. Jesse disappears right before a final stunt that he planned with Botkin, leaving his former mentor to find him and many former enemies who have many reasons to do away with either Botkin, Jesse or both.
Vanishing Act is a really interesting window onto the inside lives of magicians. Many of the characters are based upon real people. Botkin is a composite of Harry Houdini and James Randi, a note psychic debunker who in reality does offer money for legitimate phenomena. Jesse marries the charm of a TV evangelist with the abilities of James van Praagh or John Edward. There is even a magical duo with a more than passing resemblance to Penn and Teller. Fans of magic and mediums will delight in the inside references scattered throughout the book.
Douglas’s two lead characters are interesting and flawed. Botkin is dedicated to his craft and despite his search clearly does still care for his protégée, but he can sometimes be blinded by his skepticism. He goes out of his way to prove a female psychic is false, even to the point of rigging the challenge just to prove that he’s right. Jesse manages to be both charming and dangerous at the same time. His opening exhibitions and final scenes with Botkin both fascinate and repel the reader. These two eccentric characters offer a unique look into this eccentric world.