This week: Magic And Other Criminal EnterprisesEdited by: Jeff
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"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
-- Carl Sagan
Mystery Trivia of the Week: Celia Fremlin wasn't just an Edgar-winning crime writer (The Hours Before Dawn, 1960); she was something of a criminal herself. A longtime advocate of assisted suicide and euthanasia, she admitted in a newspaper interview that she had personally helped four people die.
MAGIC AND OTHER CRIMINAL ENTERPRISES
For my birthday over the weekend, some friends and family went with me to The Magic Castle , an iconic place here in Los Angeles that showcases a variety of different kinds of magical acts. Throughout the sprawling 22,000-square foot mansion, there are four theaters, five bars, and a variety of private rooms and spaces where magicians entertain visitors. There are even magicians sitting at random tables scattered throughout the space where anyone can take up a seat and watch some impressive tricks. They have a Close-Up Gallery (for performers that specialize in card, coin, and other small item manipulation), the Parlor of Prestidigitation (for performers that specialize in mind reading and other seemingly impossible feats of prediction), and other theaters for magicians of different specialties, from close-up work to grand illusions.
One of the coolest things about the night (other than seeing the shows) was hearing the performers and amateur magician members talking about the craft with people. Since magic isn't real (sorry if that's a spoiler for anyone), many of the guests - and members - enjoy watching feats of the seemingly impossible while trying to figure out how it's done. By the way, you know you've got a great trick when a magician member in the audience who's pretty skilled himself, applauds and goes, "Did you see that? Amazing!" Magicians are performers who spend a great deal of time and energy learning to perfect deceptions, illusions, and other forms of misdirection in order to give the impression of something impossible happening.
Not all magicians are created equal. Each one often specializes in a specific type of skill... for example, a magician who specializes in tricks with playing cards is often called a "card mechanic," and the sleight of hand skills he learns are often the same used by poker cheats who hide aces up their sleeves, deal from the bottom of the deck, etc. (Card mechanics are actually banned in gambling establishments like Vegas because, well, you don't want the house to be playing Blackjack against a guy who can make aces appear out of thin air! ) Similarly, street magicians (the ones who perform for crowds out on the street) are often expert pickpockets and employ other types of sleight of hand in order to create their illusions.
Magicians use these tricks and techniques in order to impress an audience. They're performers, and utilize their skills to - as happened to my cousin who was "volunteered" at one of the shows - entertain by stealing his wallet, placing items in his pocket without him knowing, taking a credit card out of his wallet, pinning something to the back of his jacket, etc. It's not hard to imagine that, while magicians are professionals who entertain, they also have skills that, when used in a different context can be very damaging or harmful. Someone with the same skill set could also turn out to be a thief, a con man, or a burglar.
I got to thinking about magicians because, well, I was at a place called "The Magic Castle" ... but also because a lot of the skills magicians perfect can very directly translate into criminal activity. But it's also worth thinking about the kinds of other skills people can learn for perfectly legitimate jobs that could in some circumstances be put to malicious use. An mechanical engineer could built death traps. A fireman has the knowledge to be a frighteningly effective arsonist. A mid-level VP at a bank might know all the right ways to embezzle money from the bank's clients. And a stock car racer or precision driver/stuntman could be an ideal getaway driver during a bank robbery.
If you're struggling to find a unique villain or an interesting way into a setup for a crime, considering having at least one of your characters come from a non-criminal background. Maybe he or she didn't grow up on the streets or survive on petty theft. Maybe she's a bored or disgruntled executive with the right skill set to complement a team that's thinking of ripping of her place of business. Or maybe he's just an ordinary construction worker or contractor who happens to know how to set off a controlled demolition and has access to the explosives needed to set up the perfect crime. The possibilities are endless, and not every criminal enterprise necessarily has to start with a hardcore lifelong criminal. Sometimes it can just be an ordinary person with just the right skill set at the right time.
Until next time,
I encourage you to check out the following mystery items:
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Sarah was fifteen the first time she took flight. Gliding over the calm, clear waters of Lake Luhemon.
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"The most beautiful crime I ever committed," Flambeau would say in his highly moral old age, "was also, by a singular coincidence, my last."
His hands were used to hard work. He was also well known as a carpenter. A barn builder. A father. Columbus (called Lum by his family and friends) held the small pit in his hands. He marveled at the intricate design of ridges and curves. He began imagining the ruts and ridges as winding around and extending beyond the boundaries of the curve of the pit. Perhaps if he carved this just right, it would be a tail of a monkey that would wrap around and around the body. Or perhaps the trunk of an elephant that could extend out into infinity. Even a donkey could be carved out of this. Lum picked up his awl and started to scratch one end to the other. He cleaned out the inside so it was almost hollow. It was still a little moist . No problem. He had a kiln just for that purpose. He walked to the middle of the room and opened the door to the kiln. It was still hot from the last work of art he had created. After placing it in the heat, he only had to wait a few minutes for it to dry out.
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Feedback from my last newsletter about when to quit:
BIG BAD WOLF writes, "Sometimes quitting isn't an option." (Submitted item: "White Sheep of the Family" [13+]
You're definitely right about that!
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