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Solomon's Mind: The Card Mysteries Of David Solomon by Eugene Burger

Reviewed by Jamy Ian Swiss (originally published in Genii August, 1998)

The name of David Solomon should already be known to any serious student of card magic, and for many years he was recognized as being among the innermost members of Ed Marlo's circle of Chicago cardicians. Mr. Solomon lent a strong hand, along with some of his own material, in assisting in the production of the famed Marlo Magazine, massive combbound manuscripts (the term magazine was certainly a misnomer) which began in 1976 and concluded with Volume Six in 1988. More recently he has also produced material in collaboration with fellow Marlo acolyte and longtime colleague Simon Aaronson. For some time we have been awaiting the release of this volume, not only because of Mr. Solomon's modest but established record, but also because of the potentially unusual pairing with author Eugene Burger. Mr. Burger, noted for his own distinctly contemplative first-person style of writing, has never before tried his hand at extensive descriptions of the material of other creators, much less material of the highly technical kind that Mr. Solomon is sometimes given to pursuing.

The results of this unexpected collaboration are interesting, if not always entirely successful. His philosophical writing style notwithstanding, Mr. Burger in fact possesses a keen vision for performance-oriented material in his own work, and a relentlessly clear-eyed pragmatism toward method; yet neither of these facets are necessarily characteristic of Mr. Solomon's tastes. A glance at the titles of the four segments into which the book is divided should serve as ample evidence, if not outright forewarning: Magic for Laypersons; Magic for Planned Close-Up Shows; Magic for Sessions; and finally, Prepared Magic for Sessions. One is given to suspect that such attenuated divisions begin to approach frequencies up where dogs can't hear. I mean, really: "Prepared Magic for Sessions"...? I take it as my mission as reviewer not to mistake my own needs as my readers', or vice versa—I assure you that you will always find my tastes sincerely represented in these pages, but not necessarily my own interests and goals— but while I've done my share of "sessioning," I don't know that I have ever prepared a gaffed prop entirely for that purpose. Nevertheless, no doubt a few of you are out there; if you are, there's a section of this book written just for you.

If, like me, you are far more interested in finding material of interest to lay audiences (and in my own case, preferably paying ones), thankfully there are some examples to be found here as well. One of my favorites is Cutting Ten, an original and very clever presentation for a Spectator Cuts to the Aces routine, coupled with a practical method, in which the multiple climax comes as a complete surprise to the audience. There is a fine version of Jim Steinmeyer's Nine Card Problem that turns the trick into a Lie Detector plot and can be effectively utilized over the telephone, my favorite of the versions provided here, combined with a procedure of Bob Farmer's.

Many magicians are unfortunately unaware that Mr. Solomon is one of the creators of the Cigarette Through Card effect, the most popular method for which is more or less a collaboration between Mr. Solomon and Don England, who also came up with the plot independently. The reason this history is not widely known is due to the enormous number of unauthorized copies produced by others. This book provides some excellent material concerning this trick, including complete routines and presentations as used by Mr. Solomon, Eugene Burger, and Danny Orleans. You can also purchase an authorized gaffed card from Mr. Solomon, who has cleverly provided a bookmark containing a price list of every gaffed and specially-printed item referred to in the text. This entire segment will unquestionably pay dividends to professional "workers."

There is some detailed and thoughtful problem solving concerning the Oil & Water plot, including a presentational angle suggested by Eugene Burger, that some may find useful for real-world audiences. But while Mr. Solomon is a deep and well-informed thinker, ever trying to improve and refine known plots with methods both known and new, a great deal of this material is going to find very limited use. As an example, there is a session item which is a version of Triumph that eliminates the stripout, much to the anticipated dismay of "magical friends who themselves perform the original." While the solution does deliver the intended goods, I'm afraid I'm willing to deny myself the celebrated experience. Elsewhere a trick entitled Odd Backs to the Fourth Power is optimistically included in the section of Magic for Planned Close-Up Shows. This is a slow-motion Ace Assembly in which all four aces possess four different backs, different not only from the balance of the deck but also from one another. As an exercise in problem-solving the idea is fascinating; as an exercise in creating performance-oriented material for paying audiences, I'd rather kick a three-legged dachshund up a hill. Make that a steep hill.

So while the material is, in essence, certainly interesting to the thinking cardician, you'll find a few crowd-pleasers along the way as well, and if you want to fool your brother or sister magi, then there is no doubt that this is the book for you. Mr. Burger's descriptions are certainly readable, and generally efficient if not always entirely effective when one hunkers down over the details and finesses so dear to the true cardician's heart. Mr. Solomon likely possesses some such finesse points which perhaps never made it into the final text, a point which will no doubt frustrate some experts and perhaps beginners alike. I wondered, for example, about the details of how Mr. Solomon gets into the Vernon Wedge Break when it first appears in the book; the move, after several references to it, is finally described in some increased detail late in the book, an inconvenient choice. At one point when using this sleight we are told that in the midst of a counting sequence the little finger is removed from the break. I would like to know exactly how Mr. Solomon, obviously an experienced fan of this somewhat obscure sleight, accomplishes this change of position without flashing the movement. Does he remove it to the right, or inward to the rear? These types of details seem to occasionally fall below Mr. Burger's radar, although one senses that this is not so much by oversight but by deliberate choice concerning what level of detail is appropriate for such descriptions.

However, having addressed what I perceive as the possible flaws or limitations in Mr. Burger's contribution to this work, I believe that they are largely overwhelmed by his positive effect. I suspect that no other author would have succeeded in encouraging Mr. Solomon to inject so much of his own personal perspective into these pages. In particular we are repeatedly made privy to Mr. Solomon's point of view concerning his often controversial mentor, Ed Marlo. Mr. Solomon shares his frustrations, ambivalence and ultimately his affection for Marlo in a variety of anecdotes and discussions throughout the text, and finally in a lengthy dialogue at the close of the book. Some may view this material as unduly sensational; others may regard it as disloyal. I strongly disagree with either such claim. This is the first time that a Marlo insider has publicly stepped up and spoken for the record, albeit gently, of that which is so often discussed behind closed doors and out of earshot of the average practitioner. Yet it is important that someone of Mr. Solomon's standing do this very thing, because this is the history that will stand when all the living players and their attending gossip are nothing but vapor. I submit that it is an act of love for both his mentor and his art that drives David Solomon to open his heart and mind publicly, and not by any stretch of the imagination an act of vindictiveness, because if the David Solomons of the world fail to do this then the history will be left in the hands of rewriters, spin-masters and revisionists (some of whom Mr. Solomon aptly names in this book). Those who know the truth must speak it, and Mr. Solomon does so with care and courage in these pages.

The book is handsomely produced, with high quality photographs on glossy paper (although here and there a few more illustrations might have been appreciated). I am not always taken with the "dialogue" format that is frequently utilized throughout the text. More often than not I would have preferred to have simply read the material properly and fully digested by the author and efficiently recounted for the reader's greatest ease. I consider this the author's responsibility, and oftentimes it seems that if all the answers are properly presented, what need have we for the questions as they might have first been asked? But these complaints aside, Messrs. Solomon and Burger have produced a truly interesting collaboration, and one that card magic fanciers of many stripes will find an interesting and rewarding read.

6 - 3/4" X 10" hardbound with laminated color dustjacket; 233 pages; illustrated with 281 photos; 1998; Publisher: David Solomon