Houdini vs. Rasputin by C. Michael Forsyth was an interesting and entertaining historical fiction read, one that was action-packed and filled with suspense. I would characterise it as a historical fiction adventure, set in Tsarist Russia between the years 1903-1911. It depicts a story between two powerful men: Harry Houdini and Rasputin in a ‘hero’ versus ‘foe’ type of context. Before I delve into this review, however, let me leave the synopsis for you to read:
Two of the most extraordinary men who ever lived clash in an epic battle of wits and wills in this historical thriller. While performing before Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the world’s greatest escape artist Harry Houdini becomes pitted against a formidable foe: the powerful mystic Rasputin. The charismatic Rasputin has made puppets of the Tsar and his wife Alexandra. To save the nation from ruin, a small band of patriots recruits Houdini to expose the imperial “spiritual advisor” as a charlatan. The American magician’s daring and ingenuity are put to the test in an adventure that takes him from the grand palaces of St. Petersburg to the frigid wastelands of Siberia.
Along the way, Houdini makes allies and enemies of a host of real-life figures, including the mischievous imp Princess Anastasia, the colossal former boxer and royal bodyguard Jim Hercules, the crossdressing conspirator Prince Yusupov and the sinister Black Sisters, practitioners of the occult who scheme to use Rasputin for their own ends.
Rasputin is one of history’s most fascinating villains, at once a barely literate Siberian peasant and a Nietzschean superman, a Christ-figure to his followers and the Antichrist to his foes, a faith healer and a debaucher of enormous sexual appetites. He has at his disposal an army of goons, femme fatales, Gypsies, hypnotized assassins and fanatical members of the mysterious Khlysty cult.
Meticulous research brings these people and the Russia of 1911 to life. Houdini did in fact perform for the Tsar and Rasputin did arrive in the capital that same year. Many real events are incorporated into this work of fiction.
Houdini vs. Rasputin begins with Houdini demonstrating his slickness, by escaping a padlocked train in Siberia which eventuates in the Tsar wanting the Houdini’s to perform in front of the royal court.
I won’t write more about the content of the story, but I will say that Houdini uncovers the role of Rasputin, the spiritual adviser to the Tsar, as a fraud! That kind of put a damper on Rasputin and his goals for power and influence over Tsarist Russia, so saying that he was quite angry would be a gross understatement.
I didn’t expect the book to be as thriller-esque than it was, only because I didn’t expect how action-packed it was. Since Houdini gets recruited by Russia’s secret police to aid in their capture of Rasputin and break the hold of influence he has on the royal family.
It was a very engaging narrative, one that kept me on my toes – and historical fiction can go either way for me, but in this case, it was fabulous. The cat-and-mouse like chase between Harry and Rasputin, the escape scenes, the chase scenes within the backdrop of Tsar Russia and the onset of the Bolsheviks with cameos of Lenin and young Stalin – I was hardly able to take a breath!
In saying that though, while Forsyth’s ability to weave the historical, with three-dimensional characters and a storyline was great, at times it did feel kind of disconnected. I don’t know how to properly articulate what I’m thinking right now so bear with me.
It did feel slightly as though scenes occurred that didn’t really feel like it flowed with the story – scenes occurring within their own bubble, if that makes sense. Each scene was entertaining and fun, but there were times that I didn’t feel like it pushed the narrative forward.
Houdini vs. Rasputin by C. Michael Forsyth was a memorable and entertaining read which surprised me by how much I enjoyed the reading experience. I would rate this a 4 out of 5 stars and would recommend to those who like to read books with a strong historical focus as well as a solid characters with action and suspense.
I’m sorry if this review is not as detailed as usual or long, but I seemed to have lost over half this review and have spent weeks trying to find it on various apps – trying to remember where the bloody hell I put it!
I hope you’re having a wonderful reading week! What has been your favourite historical fiction book that you’ve read?
Until next time, happy reading!
All the love,
About the Author:
C. Michael Forsyth is a Yale graduate and author of four previous published novels: Hour of the Beast, The Blood of Titans, The Identity Thief and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Harry Houdini in The Adventure of the Spook House, as well as the children’s book, Alphie the Albino Polar Bear. More about the writer and his work can be found at http://freedomshammer.com or on his author page https://www.amazon.com/C.-Michael-Forsyth/e/B005CAY4BE?ref=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000
I just want to extend my thanks to Freedoms Hammer Publications for providing me with a free copy of Houdini vs. Rasputin in exchange for an honest review.