DesTROYers: The Superlative Magic of Troy Hooser by Joshua Jay

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii November, 2001)

What is it about coin magic? Magicians love to watch it, are in awe of those who excel in it, and are typically frustrated by the extreme difficulty of it. (Those who aren't frustrated just don't realize how bad they look doing it.) Face it; sleight-of-hand with coins either looks perfect, or it looks like dog-doo, and there is little room in between. And then, once you spend the years it takes to master the requisite skills and make it look beautiful, you end up with about half a dozen basic plots ...and for most commercial purposes, you're done. What's the fun in that?

Well, for some it's a lot of fun, and has been for a long rime. I was fortunate enough to watch David Roth, who is all of about nine months older than me, developing and performing his revolutionary approach to coin magic back in our teens, more than 30 years ago. (Quiet, I'm creaking.) I wonder how many young magicians today realize how different coin magic was before David came along? If you compare Bobo's Modern Coin Magic with Kaufman's David Roth’s Expert Coin Magic, you might begin to get the idea.

I was also fortunate enough to know well the three other great coin men whose work I've seen at length and come to know and appreciate in depth, namely underground legend Geoff Latta, Buffalo maestro Mike Gallo, and full-time professional and sleight-of-hand master, Tim Conover. These are all guys whose work I could watch For hours—and have.

Of course, that's not to say I don't appreciate new blood. The current prevalence of "at the fingertips" coin magic, much of which stems from the profound interest generated by the Jonathan Townsend "Fingertip Coins Across" (the original routine for which remains unpublished), and popularized by Chris Kenner as "Three Fly," can be seen in the work of more recent expert handlers like Chad Long and Chris Korn. But one name has glowed amidst this crowd in the fiery heat of the underground of recent years, and that is the name of Troy Hooser.

Unfortunately, I haven't had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Hooser work yet, but his reputation precedes him. Recently (December 2000 Genii) I finally had the chance to mention two sets of his lecture notes. Now, Mr. Hooser finally bursts Forth into the open with this book of both his coin and card magic, and it warrants the attention of any serious student of contemporary sleight-of-hand. Like to practice? Want some stuff to work on? Buy this book.

The first of three sections contains what will doubtless be the most interesting material to many, namely the coin work. Eight routines are described in about 60 pages. These include an interesting opening routine in which three Chinese coins visually penetrate a piece of ribbon; a three-coin production, vanish, and reproduction; a three-coin "Coins Across" along the lines of the "Fingertip Coins Across" but combining elements of David Roth's "Down the Sleeves" plot (albeit nor noted here); several routines with the so-called "Flipper Coin" gaff; including a visual "Coins Through the Table" (utilizing an idea originally developed with the folding coin that goes back to an obscure title, The Art of Modern Conjuring, published in 1909—see "The Diminishing Coins," p.75, and which has been previously exploited by David Roth), a multiple change sequence, and multiple vanish and recovery routine; an elaborate vanish and production sequence entitled "Coin Melange" (sic) combining several interesting methodological elements (some previously published elsewhere but without credit to Mr. Hooser); a false count with coins and several applications including a multiple copper-silver sequence and a "Coins Across;" a series of routines, including some startling multiple-coin productions and vanishes, with an unusual gimmick that has some precedence in work by Dave Neighbors and Michael Gallo, among others; and finally a streamlined "Three Fly" handling.

This simple accounting does absolutely no justice to the contents. Mr. Hooser's thinking is striking: original, offbeat, stylish. The effects and methods are delightful to read and imagine; they must be wonderful to behold. The fact that I mention some credit precedents is not meant to diminish the vivid freshness of this work in the slightest; this is serious, beautiful, and unabashedly difficult sleight-of-hand. I highly recommend it. The work on the Flipper Coin alone, which first brought me to Mr. Hooser's name some years ago, is worth this section of the book, as it is all but definitive, considering how little has been developed with this unusual gimmick. (And if you want to buy the ultimate Flipper gimmicks, do attempt to track down the remarkable Mr. Todd Lassen, who offers the finest gaffed coin work I have ever seen—and I have owned work by Connie Haden and Richard Himber.)

Mr. Hooter apparently has a passion for the pasteboards, and the second segment of the book consists of about 15 items in another 60 pages. None of this material is particularly easy, and whether the style will find wide appeal is unclear to me. Mr. Hooser has distinct MUM, which tend toward rather flourishy kinds of handlings; he is responsible for some of the elaborate multiple curs that have been popularized by others without adequate credit to him ("Sybil," for example, in Out of Control by Chris Kenner), as will be readily recognized by a quick glance at some of the fancy multiple cut sequences illustrated. The final section of the book includes some assorted items of interest, including an unusual routine with a miniature ceramic mask; a handling of the Bob Read bottle production adapted to a close-up mat instead of a silk; a lovely utility handling for cleaning up concealed items when wearing a jacket; a rubber band routine; and a series of vanishes, productions and changes with sponge balls that rely upon the use of a thumbtip. The book concludes with an excellent index, a very useful tool that is probably the most notable contribution of the author, Joshua Jay.

An ambitious writer to be sure, Mr. Jay meets his match, and sometimes loses the battle, amid the challenges presented in describing this sophisticated material. It is no mean feat to describe such complexity in apparently simple and transparent prose. While he strives mightily to appear the sophisticated writer, his repeated slightly misused polysyllabics unfortunately serves only to more readily reveal his limitations.

An item entitled the "One-and-a-Half-Pass," with the added complication of a missing illustration, another illustration with hands reversed from those referred to in the text, combined with an inarticulate description, is rendered difficult to comprehend. Throughout, illustrations are provided that are unnecessary, and illustrations are not provided where they would be more than welcome; knowing the difference is a product of experience with material of this nature, and is not always easy to determine. It should be noted here that Tony Dunn's illustrations are very good, and serve the complex material well. The credit attempts are commendable, but often naive or incomplete; I suppose you can't find everything on The Second Deal. And please, oh, please, could nor someone rescue us from the juvenilia of titles like "INTRODUCTION" and "EXTRAORDINARY?" Where is it written that we must litter magic with such nonsense?

I should mention that this is one of the first books, in addition to Joshua Jay's Magic Atlas, to be published by Murphy's Magic, under the guiding editorial of ... who? Their names do not appear here, perhaps hoping they would remain as un-indicted co-conspirators. Murphy's has a number of interesting projects in the pipeline, and they are to be forgiven for making some mistakes in these early steps.

The material here is absolutely sound—in fact, it is simply superb, and while I recommend the book highly because of this, my sympathies go out to Mr. Hooser, who seems ill-served by the project. Other choices were less wise, including the unfortunate design and production. The book is done in laminated board covers, almost invariably a regrettable choice in my estimation; if you visit a real bookstore, you will generally only see such packaging primarily in children's books, humor, and hardware. What's more, the cover image has nothing to do with the content ... a picture of a padlock and chain appears to refer to ... what? The title? DesTROYers. The sub-title? "The Superlative Magic of Troy Hooser." No ... it must have to do with this other phrase on the cover: "Finally Released ..." Is that a title? A sub-title? It doesn't appear anywhere else, including on the title page. Is it a marketing blurb? Then why is it permanently printed in the cover? And why is the cover image about that, instead of about the content? The only answer that occurs to me is that no one involved has seen a book before. But that can't be true ... can it?

Destroyers: The Superlative Magic of Troy Hooser • by Joshua Jay • Published by Murphy's Magic • Available from local dealers • 8" x II" laminated board covers • 167 pages • illustrated with 243 line drawings