By George Ebey
Gigi Pandian brings us the next entry in her magic-centered Accidental Alchemist series.
In this installment, Zoe Faust finds that deciphering an ancient alchemy book is more difficult than she bargained for. She’d much rather be gardening and exploring her new home of Portland, Oregon—but time is running out for living gargoyle Dorian Robert-Houdin. If Zoe isn’t able to unlock the alchemy book’s secrets soon, the French gargoyle will remain awake but trapped in stone forever. When Zoe gives herself a rare night out to attend a classic magic show that reminds her of her youth, she realizes the stage magicians are much more than they seem. A murder at the theater leads back to a string of unsolved robberies and murders in Portland’s past, and a mystery far more personal than Zoe and Dorian ever imagined.
The Big Thrill recently caught up with Gigi to learn more about her work
THE MASQUERADING MAGICIAN is the second book in your Accidental Alchemist series. Can you give us some background about the series?
The Accidental Alchemist mysteries feature centuries-old alchemist Zoe Faust and her impish gargoyle sidekick Dorian, who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician who didn’t realize the alchemy book he was reading from contained real magic.
Zoe has been living out of her Airstream trailer for years, never staying in one place for too long, until she falls in love with Portland, Oregon. She’s hoping to find a normal life, at least for a few years—but she learns that she can’t escape her past.
As the title suggests, the story appears to involve magic. Have you always had an interest in magic, and if so, what first kindled your interest in it?
Stage magic and mystery fiction have a lot in common. They’re both about misdirection and a sense of mystery.
I first became interested in stage magic through two types of books. First, I’ve always loved classic mysteries from the Golden Age of detective fiction. Authors writing fair-play puzzles would provide all the clues for readers, relying on misdirection to fool the reader. I loved that “aha!” moment at the end, where I never guessed what was coming and yet it fit perfectly. Many main characters of those Golden Age mystery novels were magicians themselves, such as Clayton Rawson’s Merlini.
Second, several years ago I received a book filled with classic magic show posters. Have you ever looked at the illustrated posters for magic acts of early 1900s? They’re amazing. They evoke a feeling of wonder, hinting at the supernatural with ghosts and devils whispering in the ear of the magicians. With my dual loves of art and mystery, I was hooked and wanted to explore more. That’s when I began attending magic shows.
The opening image of THE MASQUERADING MAGICIAN is of a poster reminiscent of classic magic shows. (And cover illustrator Hugh D’Andrade did a superb job capturing that feel on the book cover.)
Did this story require much research into the field of magic? If so, can you tell us some of the things you learned and discovered during the process?
Yes! I fell down the rabbit hole of research for this book. There are several chapters in THE MASQUERADING MAGICIAN set in the past with real life Father of Modern Magic Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin, so I wanted to set the scene with true historical details.
In the series, Robert-Houdin is the magician who accidentally brings Dorian the gargoyle to life—that part of his history is fiction, but everything else is true. For example, it’s true history that at the request of the French government Robert-Houdin traveled to Algeria to perform “magic” that would help avert a military crisis. He performed the bullet-catch illusion and convinced local leaders that he possessed real magic.
I’m a former academic, so I can’t help myself from digging into obscure research. I studied both the history of various stage magic personalities and also the secrets of illusions. I didn’t want to give away the secrets of magic, though, so included details I found fascinating, without giving away the foundation of magicians’ secrets.
There are two types of magic in the series: stage magic and alchemy. Alchemy is what brings a paranormal element to the book, and the subject was an even bigger area to research. While writing this book, I had to buy a new bookshelf.
Alchemy is the precursor to modern chemistry, and its core idea of “transformation” supposedly leads to the transformation of lead into gold and the mortal body into the immortal. Here’s a fascinating alchemical tidbit: when famous alchemist Nicolas Flamel’s body was exhumed, it was found to be empty, fueling rumors that he’d truly discovered the Elixir of Life and been granted immortality.
Are there more Accidental Alchemist tales on the way?
I’m hard at work on the third Accidental Alchemist book. I’m currently writing two mystery series. In addition to the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, I write the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series about Indian-American historian Jaya Jones who solves present-day crimes linked to historic treasures related to India’s colonial history.
I like to write a fast draft of a book to get all of my ideas down on paper, then set it aside and let the ideas percolate. During that time, I switch gears to the other series, so I’m always excited about each new project.
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian spent her childhood being dragged around the world by her cultural anthropologist parents, which inspired her to write the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand) and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist, The Masquerading Magician). Gigi’s debut novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant, the follow-up won the Left Coast Crime Rose Award, and her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards.
To learn more about Gigi, please visit her website.