The Little Egypt Gazette Book Review:

The Feints and Temps of Harry Riser, by Ed Brown, illustrated by Earle Oakes, published by Kaufman and Greenberg. $45 regular edition, $90 deluxe slipcased, numbered (only 50), autographed edition. From Richard Kaufman, 4200 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Suite 106-292, Washington, DC 20016.

The "feints" and "temps" in the elegant title of this fat new book hail from The Secrets of Conjuring and Magic, by Robert-Houdin. The former word of course refers to a pretense or simulated action, while the latter, loosely translated from French, refers to "favorable moment." Although both are used to advantage in Harry Riser's extensive repertoire, which we'll get to in a moment, we should pause to note that Harry's references to these words, by page number, indicate that we are dealing here with a classicist. Throughout The Feints and Temps of Harry Riser, Harry quotes from Erdnase, Robert-Houdin, Downs, Hofzinser, and Bobo, among others, evidencing a thorough grounding in classical magic literature via his own studies and through such mentors as Dai Vernon and Charlie Miller. But although Harry's philosophies and techniques are firmly based on time-tested principles, his plots are by no means mired in the past. He brings fresh new entertaining approaches to such fare as the cups and balls, "The Cap and Pence," "McDonald's $100 Four Ace Trick," the Hofzinser transparent card, all-backs routines, and so on. My primary regret in reading this book is that I did not have the opportunity to see the routines performed first. I'm certain I would have been both enchanted and baffled by the lot.

Nearly every trick on which he works acquires a new dimension, whether it be a new subtlety to help disguise the method or a different presentation to bring it into the realm of true entertainment.
-- Ed Brown

Like the best of the books from Richard Kaufman, this is a personality book, a book that conveys the essence of a performer via forewords, introductions, biographical material, photos, testimonials, and, most importantly, the creative thinking, philosophies, and repertoire choices of its subject. Richard feels -- rightly so -- that this is one of the best books to come out of his shop recently, and it will stand well alongside other personality books such as Derek Dingle's Complete Works, The Uncanny Scot Ron Wilson, Show-Time at the Tom-Foolery, The Secrets of Brother John Hamman, and so on. I had the pleasure of meeting Harry Riser for the first time last October, at a Doc Eason lecture, where I found him to be tall, energetic, very funny, and a great story-teller. (He did not, alas, give me permission to pass on the story!) He certainly didn't seem old enough to have been the confidant of so many of the now-departed greats in magic (at Doc's lecture, Harry jokingly claimed to have introduced Houdini on his lecture tour through Indianapolis), but his new book claims otherwise. Through the three forewords by John Braun, Charlie Miller (this book was a long time in the works!), and John Thompson, along with related material, Harry Riser is painted as being in cahoots with the likes of Jay Marshall, Johnny Thompson, "Dorny" Dornfield, Robert Parrish, Julius Sundman, J. Elder Blackledge, Stewart Judah, Ed Marlo, Dai Vernon, Charlie Miller, Herb Zarrow, Bill Simon, and Ken Krenzel. (No offense intended to those of you in this list who are still quite alive and in your primes!) Although Harry is an Indiana product -- a native of Vincennes, a student at Indiana University, and a current resident of Indianapolis -- it was his business years in Chicago, with frequent trips to New York City, that made him privy to so many of the architects of 20th-century American magic, and to be able to share his own creations with them. Photos proliferate through the book of Harry with Miller, Vernon, and Chick Schoke, among others, and there is a photo of a very nice testimonial letter from Dai Vernon. Harry introduces his philosophies in his own words via two reprinted M-U-M columns, particularly on the uses of feints and temps and on the subject of uniformity of action. Practical examples of these philosophies are included.

From Harry's extensive repertoire, 32 titled items were selected for inclusion in this book. Of these, 18 deal with cards, 8 with coins, 4 with balls, 1 with folding cash, and 1 with walnuts. The reader will not want for variety. All the items have merit, but I'm going to comment only on a dozen or so to give you an idea of what the book is about. (My normal prejudices are in effect, by the way; I perk up at card tricks, and my eyes glaze over at effects involving a gold, copper, and silver coin, regardless of how clever.) The hallmark of the routines for me were the plots and/or scripts. Harry really thinks about what makes sense in a plot, and about what is mysterious and funny in a routine. These routines fully mine the entertainment value of the magical occurrences. As to methods, they are generally as straightforward as possible. Although a long-time connoisseur of sleight of hand, Harry is enough of an entertainer and enough of a scoundrel to use gimmicks where appropriate, as was Dai Vernon, for example, in "The Trick That Fooled Houdini." In a few cases, special cards are involved that may be difficult to obtain ("Three Card Metamorphosis," "Cheating the Cheater"). I'd contact Neil Lester of Cards by Martin if I wanted to do those particular routines. This is likewise true of at least one apparatus trick ("Ball, Cone, and Box Routine"), although in that instance the special item is not crucial to the routine, and alternatives are suggested. Mostly, the routines can be performed with standard items you have around a magician's house (a deck of cards, a shell coin, a rubber walnut (?), etc.) And now, enjoy the routines . . .

The Walnut Trick -- Most of us "young" guys first encountered this effect as "The Peripatetic Walnuts" in Volume Two of The Vernon Chronicles, by Stephen Minch. In Harry's version, three walnuts magically fly from the magician's pocket to an inverted glass that is covered by an empty can. As with most of Harry's magic, this version is extremely clean and contains significant subtleties.

Instant Speller -- This is one of those "Trick that Cannot Be Explained" items where the outcome isn't exactly ordained, but which always works out successfully. Embedded in this is a truly nifty method of peeking a chosen card.

Semiautomatic Gambler -- This is a powerful version of "The Ten Card Deal" or "Mexican Poker," in which Harry uses the full deck rather than just ten cards, uses a morphing Jonah, and ends with the surprise punch of dealing himself a royal flush. This is one of several card routines that deal with a gambling theme and which incorporate royal flushes (or better!) in the climax. Robert Farmer: Add this one to your list.

The Practice Deck -- This is an exceedingly entertaining all-backs routine (few of which are). Showing a deck with all backs on both sides, Harry cuts to the five cards that make up a royal flush (showing each of those as having backs on both sides also, to the spectators' amusement). At the end, the five cards are shown to indeed be the royal flush, and the rest of the deck develops faces as well.

The Poker Lesson -- The magician teaches the spectator how to cheat at poker in three lessons. Following an overhand shuffling formula, the magician deals five hands of draw, winding up with the four aces that had started out together. As an aside he shows that he dealt one of the players an excellent hand as well, to ensure lively betting. (The dealer "just can't seem to break his old gambling habits.") He shuffles and deals again, inviting the spectator to choose any hand, which the dealer will then beat. The non-chosen hands are turned up also, and these are improved from the stock. Ultimately the dealer beats the player by filling a royal flush. As a third lesson, the dealer immediately deals another royal flush. The continuous (and easy) fair-looking shuffles make the whole thing seem impossible. This just might be the poker routine you've been looking for all your life.

Harry's Cups and Balls -- One seldom turns to a classic cups and balls routine and finds anything new under the sun. The Vernon routine and a very few others have set a high standard for simplicity and impact. I'm happy to say that Harry's routine is in this elite class: He uses two extra balls (rather than one) to achieve some very clean handling. The basic effect is that the (supposedly) three balls congregate in one spot, four times, and then the final loads are produced.

The Legendary Five-Ace Poker Hand -- For years, most of us have been dealing three indifferent cards onto four face-up aces, without any real motivation other than to create a perverse situation. Harry has yanked this ancient effect almost into the 21st century by dealing four cards instead of three and calling each packet a poker hand. As each ace vanishes from the packet, it is replaced by a card that improves the hand! Although the dealer loses his pat royal flush that he started with (as each ace joins his hand), he winds up with an even better hand, four aces plus a wild deuce, for five aces.

The Cap and Quarters -- Of the few coin tricks I do enjoy and perform, one is the "Cap and Pence." Harry's version features a squeaky clean method for ringing in and disposing of the feke. There is also an ingenious subtlety regarding the quantity of coins, but I can't mention it without tipping it. This is one of the effects that so impressed Charlie Miller, and it should have.

Marked Cards and Dealer's School -- This item reveals in full detail (including the type of ink to use) for marking a Bicycle deck. The marks can be easily read, as in the recently published system by Robert Farmer, but are not as brazen as the Ted Lesley system. Even better, Harry offers several routines to use with a marked deck that make the effort of marking the cards worthwhile. (Or you could just engage your acquaintances in a friendly game of blackjack.) As with the Farmer article, this is a breakthrough essay.

Devilish Miracle Revisited -- This has long been one of my favorite plots -- I use Jim Ryan's method -- and Harry's version is equally clean and entertaining. I should mention that virtually all of Harry's routines in the book include the complete method. That is, he gets you into and out of the effect, including the methods for controlling a selected card (you aren't forced to rely on "your favorite method"). This effect is an example of that thoroughness.

Hofzinser Hole Card Transposition -- This brief effect introduces a poker theme in which to use the Hofzinser semi-transparent card. Again, this is an example of how Harry frequently uses a gambling motif to turn an otherwise curiosity item into a relevant effect.

Hornswoggled Revisited -- This is an easy short-change routine, a la Bert Allerton's "Bamboozle" in Stars of Magic. Using some very easy-to-make gaffs, a set of bills is counted as $30, $29, $25, or $40 at will. Harry often rings them in as part of a wager in one of his other effects, such as "The Poker Lesson." As usual, an entertaining story is provided.

I'm not certain a dozen examples do justice to the book, but you get the idea. I must add that there are two ball routines in the book, one a five-golf-ball production that uses no shells, the other a billiard ball production that does. Both routines deviate from usual routines in that a script is provided, rather than expecting the magician to produce them to music and look lovely. A nice change, I thought. "The Two Billet Test" is another honey, with a method for discerning a selected card and a diabolical method for getting one ahead in a billet routine that can be used outside the confines of this particular plot. Ach, that's fourteen (or is it fifteen?), and I'm outta here. ("The Two Billet Test" is reproduced elsewhere in this issue.)

Classic apparatus from "Ball, Cone, and Box Routine"

I had facetiously hoped to dislike this book so that I could title this review "The Trouble With Harry," but there is precious little to dislike in it. Physically, this is one of the larger books from Richard Kaufman, a hefty 271 pages, and they are packed with some excellent drawings by Earle Oakes and by some very clear text by Ed Brown. So who is Ed Brown? A friend of Harry's, Ed lives in Champaign, Illinois, and I first heard of him over 30 years ago, when I was a college student there. This was long before Don England established a name for himself in Champaign, and long before Andy Dallas opened his wondrous cavern of mysteries there known as Dallas & Co. I asked Jay Marshall if there was anyone I could meet in Champaign who was into magic, and he enthusiastically endorsed Ed Brown, who, he said, was very good at cards. Ed and I never got together, but the name stuck. If one must quibble about anything, I suppose it could be about what isn't in the book, such as Harry's work with the Malini egg bag and the linking rings. I asked Richard about the rings, and he said that over 100 photos had been shot, and the routine taped, and everyone realized the ring routine alone would have added 50 pages to the book. It is therefore being saved for the second volume of the Harry Riser story. In the meantime, there is a surfeit of ground breaking material in the present volume, more than enough to keep you profitably occupied on these long winter nights.

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Copyright© 1997 by Steve Bryant