Ah-ha! by David Harkey and Eric Anderson

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii October, 1997)

I confess that I've never been much of a fan of David Harkey's work. While there have been occasional flashes of quality in his ouevre, I must say that I have often had the impression that too frequently the weight of admittedly novel plots tends to collapse when constructed upon flimsy methodological groundwork.

While I am not familiar with the work of Mr. Harkey's collaborator, Eric Anderson, I have heard some good notices. It is difficult to tell who is responsible for what in these pages, so I would tend to err on relieving Mr. Anderson of much blame by association, especially since Mr. Harkey is identified as the author and illustrator, and since Mr. Anderson seems to have some experience in the world of real performance. Be that all as it may, this is not a good book. While it might be acceptable had I found such an assortment of highs and lows of material packaged within a twelve dollar set of stapled lecture notes, accompanied perhaps at least by an amusing live lecture performance, as a small format, 90 page, thirty dollar hardcover, the result leaves a lot to be desired— almost everything, when it comes right down to it.

In fact, I double-checked every entry in the book just to be certain I hadn't missed anything. I hadn't. There is very little material of high merit here, much of it is mediocre at best, and I find some of the contents downright awful. There is also a sometimes annoying degree of an almost subversive style of hype that attempts to conceal its intentions as it tries to rope the reader into thinking something is better than it is. It doesn't work on me, and it shouldn't on you.

There are 21 items. Let us begin with the second entry, which in fact brings me to what has always most troubled me about much (albeit not quite all) of Mr. Harkey's work. In this item, dubbed Torque, you hold a borrowed quarter and claim to make it hot by means of thinking about it. You then drop the quarter into your drink, which begins to erupt in a "boiling froth." The spectator now fishes the coin out of the drink, whereupon they discover that the coin is permanently bent.

Okay, now, work with me on this, I'm not kidding: Think fast: Name a method! Call your solution! Don't think too hard, just name it! Now!

Absolutely correct: a switch and some Alka Seltzer. Now, that wasn't hard at all, was it? I've asked this of a number of magicians over the phone, and that's just what they came up with too. Now I realize that just because a magician can grasp the method of an effect, that doesn't mean your audience will. But frankly, I don't think it would be that much harder for a layperson to nail that method either. Sure, it might take him or her a little longer-after all, you've grown accustomed to reading mail-order magic advertisements out of Iowa—but I don't think it would take all that much longer. And if you didn't pass our little quiz, well, you must be buying a hell of a lot of mail-order magic.

Elsewhere there is a bluff version of the Fogel Headline Hunter prediction. Now I'm as much for bluff and boldness in mentalism as the next guy, but hell, even the great bold master himself, Al Koran, would at least let the spectator who selects the prediction word actually see the word he or she supposedly selects, right? But here we have a case in which the final selector is told to close his eyes and then point to a word which the performer then reads aloud, whereupon the paper is torn up and discarded. This is fine if you're fooling around with a party stunt for some of your friends, but even Kreskin probably wouldn't be stupid enough to let his alleged mental capacities stand or fall on stuff this thin. This is armchair magic methodology of the worst odor. Order. Whatever.

Another effect has you unlocking the driver's-side door of your car without using your hands, while being viewed by a spectator who is standing on the other side of the car, outside the passenger door, looking through the car windows. This is the kind of stunt you should teach someone when they ask you to teach them something fun. Not that I ever oblige such requests (as I find it tacky and demeaning, and it simply reinforces the idea that the only thing that differentiates you and your audience is a secret), but if I did, this is the kind of thing I'd use. That said, this is not the silliest entry in the book. For that, you require the use of a specially trained dog. I am not making this up.

There is a stapled card plot, in which, among other things, you need two cards signed on the face by a spectator while you hold the cards with your thumb fully across their centers to conceal the staples. I love stuff like this. I also love tabling an eight-card packet as if it's one card. (If you would like a practical approach to the stapled card plot, I recommend Simon Lovell's handling in his new book.) Elsewhere, you pluck the petals off a daisy, then one returns when you blow on it. If you have a use for this kind of blather, then by all means, have at it. I don't.

A trick entitled Wingding is, finally, a very good one. This is essentially the old ashes in the hand, but done for children with those little stickers so popular today. For example, a butterfly sticker vanishes from a strip of stickers, only to appear stuck on the back of the kid's hand. Lovely idea, great if you work in a family restaurant.

Here is an effect description repeated verbatim from the text: "Holding a swatch of paper at your fingertips, and nothing else, you touch off the paper with a flame. Amid the blaze a fresh pack of cards appears at your fingertips." Anybody have a method? Everybody?

The next effect is called Bottom Feeder (these really are too easy, aren't they?). How incapable of resisting magic ad hyperbole is our humble author? He claims in the opening line of the effect that you begin with "an unknown card inside the card case" which eventually becomes a selection. Two sentences later in the description we discover it's not just one card (yes, it didn't exactly say that, I know), it's actually a card sandwiched between two other cards. Suddenly doesn't seem so impenetrable, does it?

In the description of a rubber band trick, the author, in a sudden if potentially fatal attack of frankness, admits that "many people never realize the band so violates the laws of physics Mobius himself would give you a funny look." Forgive me if I pass on magic where I can confidently expect a portion of the audience not to notice that an effect has occurred.

There's a question-and-answer bit that includes a potentially interesting glimpse technique which you must then repeat four times in front of the close-up audience. I wish you all good success.

A bill penetration routine seems useful, especially with Mr. Anderson's improvements. A false in-the-hands riffle shuffle, also Mr. Anderson's, seems like it might have great value, but the imprecise illustrations, lacking only detail and all perspective, probably render it somewhat mysterious without an actual demonstration.

The book is quite slickly designed and the mail-order ads in the back look really great, which suggests to me that it's nice to have a hobby as a second income along with a job, but if one of these is magic and the other is commercial design, then I'd be willing to hazard a guess as to which is which in Mr. Harkey's case. Or at least should be.

5 - 1/2" X 8-1/2" hardcover with dustjacket; 90 pages; illustrated with over 100 line drawings and several photographs; 1997; Publisher: Clandestine Productions