When I was between eleven and thirteen years old, while all my classmates idolized one sports figure/rock idol or another, I was drawn to three things: Dylan Thomas, Bob Dylan, and Houdini. So it's safe to say I've read a few books on the subject of Harry Houdini. When Mannetti was doing her research for THE BOX JUMPER she read more than fifty books on subjects relating to Houdini. That's more than twice the amount I've read. It's this penchant she has for knowing before writing that makes this story believable, intelligent and engaging.
THE BOX JUMPER is the story of Leona Derwatt, Houdini's (fictional) magician's assistant--or box jumper--and mistress. The story is told in surreal and somewhat unconventional sequences in both the 1920s shortly before Houdini's death and in the 1950s. In the 20s Leona and Houdini team up to debunk and expose fake spiritualists and mediums and it is in this period that the terror to be sows it's seeds. Those seeds come to fruition in the 50s when Leona finds herself battling personal demons. I won't say more than that about the plot. It's a short book and it would be easy to spoil.
The thing about Mannetti's work that always stands out and makes it sing with magic greater than that of Houdini is her obvious love affair with the English language. She's an extremely well read person--as are all great authors--her prose is spare and beautiful, not a word wasted, as in the beginning of THE BOX JUMPER:
" IT WAS the children who brought Houdini back. The ones who were dead or missing. He never had any of his own, but he loved children—made sure there were always free performances at hospitals and orphanages. "
and her dialogue is natural sounding and real, as is the character of her unreliable and tragic narrator, Leona.