Miracles With Cards by James Swain

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii January, 1996)

Miracles With Cards

Here's the kind of book that can always arrest my attention, bring a smile to my face, and thoroughly distract me for awhile from doing important and necessary things in my life—like eating and sleeping. This is a terrific book of nothing less than great sleight-of-hand card magic. If you're the kind of cardician that is thrilled to read fresh effects that are brutally strong, if you're not afraid to kick into the real work at times to achieve a desired effect, and if you're not afraid to do the occasional virtually effortless miracle, then you will enjoy this book. Hell, you will want this book!

Mr. Swain has created a volume of excellent material that will most assuredly attract some of the attention that is his due, despite his amateur status and the fact that, since he does not lecture or do convention appearances, few magi have the opportunity to see him work (regrettably, myself included). Astute cardicians with their ears to the ground and eyes to the literature have of course already long taken notice of Mr. Swain's distinctive if rare contributions, from isolated but highly influential routines like the the Vanishing Aces and Poker Interchange, to his previous manuscript, Don't Blink. Nevertheless, many more are certainly about to hear and remember his name.

The author begins with some introductory commentary in his foreword, including the suggestion that "If you are going to perform close-up, it is my belief that the standard must be you. The tricks and routines you present must be overwhelming. You should be the very best close-up performer you can because, chances are, you will be one of the very few your audiences will ever see." Before proceeding further, please go back and read that again! Mr. Swain goes on to make this cogent point: "Sleight of hand is magic's last true haven. It is the only branch of the art which cannot be 'bought into' by purchasing expensive props and videos tailor-made for those seeking a pleasant weekend sideline. Becoming proficient in sleight of hand does not have a price tag except for years of hard labor—no different from any of the other fine arts." Okay, class, now that we understand one another, you are free to proceed at your own risk.

There are 46 entries, most of which are complete routines, a handful of which are sleights. The sleights are all unquestionably noteworthy; these include a deceptive bluff multiple shift that is not terribly demanding beyond the need to achieve smoothness and natural timing; and a useful if somewhat advanced item called the Pass Palm that, via mechanics based on those of the Classic Pass, enables a packet of cards from the top of the deck to be secretly transferred to left hand bottom palm in one instantaneous action. Mr. Swain has a passion for the Classic Pass— an appreciation I share with him—and he gives some invaluable notes and tips that represent a contemporary expert's knowledge. This deserves to be added to the small record of useful current sources on this subject,

including the Collected Works of Derek Dingle by Richard Kaufman, and the Card Classics of Ken Krenzel by Harry Lorayne, both of which are cited by Mr. Swain. (To this recommended list I would also append Taylor and Elias' work on the Jiggle and Riffle Passes, from Epilogue ) I would also add here to Mr. Swain's cogent remarks that while it is wise to consider blues guitar legend Buddy Guy's advice to aspiring musicians, "Try to have a guitar in your hands all the time," it is also unquestionably wise to choose the appropriate skills to practice. It is common today to see magicians who have yet to master, for example, a Spread Cull Control, much less a Side Steal, attempting to "practice" the pass. Such a run-before-walking approach is a waste of energy and a detriment to all concerned.

"Sleight of hand is magic's last true haven. It is the only branch of the art which cannot be "bought into" by purchasing expensive props and videos tailor-made for those seeking a pleasant weekend sideline."—James Swam,Miracles With Cards

There are, thankfully if frustratingly, far too many valid, solid tricks in this book to discuss all of them here. The very first item is the Airmail Card, a novel and amazing revelation, which Bill Malone endorses as the proverbial "worth-the-price-of-the-book" entry. This is an unusual card-to-wallet plot that bears a distant relation to Darwin Ortiz's equally notable Dream Card. One routine that jumped out at me is an awesomely clever version of the card in matchbook; this is so good, I hope you forget I even mentioned it. The subtle method here is as good as the potent effect, and while I'm not generally fond of card-to-impossible locations in which the selection is not signed, the construction of this routine makes it more than worthy of any expert's attention. This trick is followed by a hands-off, selected card to card box in which the effect borders on frightening, but the method is criminally easy. There is very clever ungaffed version of Phil Goldstein's B'Wave in which the selected Queen mysteriously magically transports itself to the card box. There is an interesting (for a change!) Triumph variant, entitled Perfect Triumph, in which part of the effect includes a shuffled deck not only righting itself but arriving in new-deck order, along with a transposition of the selected card. Miracle Aces is the kind of direct quickie that cardicians are always looking for, in which four Aces are convincingly distributed in the deck, and then instantly and visibly appear at the face of the deck. In My Opener, which the author explains is intended to "demonstrate[s] my ability to handle a deck of cards and fool the hell out of an audience at the same time," a series of repeated Ace revelations and a Triumph sequence leads to a final Ace location in which the entirety of each accompanying complete suit of cards is also revealed. There is a genuinely spectacular closer entitled Rules of the Game which is ridiculously simple to do, and which is preceded by some straight talk about simple ethical principles that every reader should simply accept, understand, commit to memory, and get over it. There is also an interesting series of effects with the Jennings Box, a gaffed card box that I was first introduced to in 1982 at a memorable lecture by Mr. Jennings. And there is much more. You could build a fantastic card act out of this book—with plenty of variety and dynamics—and then go out and make a living from it.

The design of the book is straightforward; no frills, cleanly typeset, no dustjacket, and all in all perfectly clean and serviceable. Mr. Swain writes clearly and concisely, generally communicating his technical ideas effectively. The highlight of the production is the 128 stunningly crisp photographs. I don't know how they got these photos to look these good, but they are terrific. High quality line drawings are generally superior to photographs, but these leave nothing wanting. I could have lived without the frou-frou corner frills which mar these otherwise superb photos, being as they are merely extraneous ink on the page, but that is my only complaint, and a mild one at that. This is the best book of sleight-of-hand card material that has come across the desk in awhile, and if these tricks don't turn you on, then you ain't got no switches.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound; 190 pages; 128 black-and-white photographs; 1996; Publisher: Kenneco

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