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Houdini Code Mystery--A Spirit Secret Solved, The Review

Official Review

December 14th, 2002 6:50pm
Rating:
Reviewed by Brad Henderson
I am a huge fan of the work Mike Caveney has produced through his Magic Words publishing house. Many obscure and unknown performers, and some more well known ones, have been profiled in intelligent and revealing ways for which all students of magic should be grateful.

It was interesting therefore to see perhaps the most written about magical performer, Houdini, featured in one of the titles. To be specific, this book by Rev. William Rauscher explores the mystery of the Houdini Code; the alleged transmission delivered by medium Arthur Ford which proved “undeniably” that Houdini had returned in spirit form. It is the “undeniable” aspect of that claim which Rauscher addresses.

First, the good points. As of all of Caveney’s productions, this book is lovely. Well bound, well illustrated, a good heft, it’s a first rate product from the publishing standards. The contents however, are another story.

When it comes to the Houdini Code mystery itself, I think Rauscher could have informed us as to what it was, and provided his theories as to how it was accomplished, in a handful of pages. Though many of Rauscher’s digressions (the book seems to be one big digression) are interesting, I feel the reader may be getting something other than promised by the title.

We learn that other magicians did not like Houdini, not an uncommon fact, we learn that Houdini could be ruthless, again a trait having been discussed many times before, and we learn that he may have been impotent, a new fact for me, but hardly having anything to do with the spirit world.

Specifically, I take issue with Rauscher’s presentation of the facts. For example, in his lengthy chapter on how others saw Houdini, he presents a number of performers and gives their insights. Sometimes, however, he cities people that never knew Houdini and only related what others told them. He also includes those other people. For example, he has George Johnstone relate how Harry Blackstone Sr. felt, and he has a segment featuring Harry himself. It seems as if Rauscher is trying to overwhelm us with authorities who support his claims, when in fact, the numbers of those qualified to make comment are fewer than portrayed.

Also, Rauscher makes habit of mentioning letters and other source documents which are “in his collection” or in a “private collection.” While there is nothing wrong with this, I think in the interest of academic honesty these documents should be reproduced so we the readers can see that they DO exist, and they DO say what the author is claiming. And when the author is deducing something based on these hidden evidences, we should be allowed to see if we agree with his conclusions.

Finally, though the book reads well, I found myself not liking Rauscher, our guide through this journey. Far too often are we met with self-aggrandizing statements which laud the author’s relationship with various authorities. For example, we are treated to the inscription in one of Rauscher’s books which was given to him by someone who knew Houdini. Though I’m sure I would be equally proud of having such a title in my library, I don’t see any point in quoting it and rubbing everyone else’s nose in the fact that it indeed is not in ours, particularly as it contributed nothing to the case of the Houdini Code per se.

Finally, what of the books conclusions? Well, if you want to read the book, you might not want to read this next bit. Basically, Rauscher’s revelation comes down to having met one man, Jay Abbott, who knew Ford, the medium, and Bessie Houdini. Abbott claimed that Ford got a glimpse of Bessie’s ring, and from that figured out the code. How did Abbott get this information? Bessie told him that’s what she thought must have happened. An interesting theory, and one that I’ve heard kicked around before (even one layperson I know related this story to me), but hardly earth shattering.

So, should you buy this book? If you love Houdini, want to know some eclectic bits of information, collect books, or want the inside scoop on what it really took to become the self proclaimed king of magic, then yes. If you really want to get to the bottom of one of the greatest spiritualist mysteries extant, then don’t. You would be sadly disappointed.

Product info for Houdini Code Mystery--A Spirit Secret Solved, The

Author: Rauscher, William V.
Publisher: Magic Words
Average Rating:  (1)
Retail Price: $45.00
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Manufacturer's Description:

This book could well be called The Unmasking of Harry Houdini. Was Houdini, as the long-standing myth begs us to believe, truly the world's greatest magician? Did he communicate a secret message to his wife through a famous spirit medium? If you give credence to either of these claims, prepare to have your beliefs shattered. By bringing together the opinions of those who actually knew and worked with Houdini, the author has painted a most accurate portrait of this American icon. Some with argue that the author has tarnished Houdini's polished image while others will hail it as the most honest account ever written. 192 pages. 60 photographs, tipped-in frontispiece. Limited to 1000 numbered copies.


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