Vis A Vis by Jack Avis and John Derris

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

Jack Avis is a highly respected Scottish magician, especially known for his work with cards and long revered by the well-known members of the Scottish contingent, from Roy Walton to Peter Duffie et al. This collection gathers a great deal of Mr. Avis' work together in one volume, much of which has been published in sources distributed far and wide and never before collected in one place. Much new material has been added as well. There are seven sections covering a wide gamut of material, beginning with a segment of coin magic, several groupings of card magic, and material ranging from mentalism to a handful of concluding tricks with rings, ropes, safety pins and the like.

Some of this material has been with Mr. Avis for a long time, so that while there are a great many good ideas, many have often been previously and independently both reinvented and popularized by others. While there is frankly little here that is revolutionary, and no spectacular feature items that jump out as blockbusters, nevertheless I found a lot of good ideas here that are worthy of study and practical use. There's a clever coin holder that's easily made and particularly conducive to manipulation, for purpose of vanishing a group of coins. This, like most material in the coin chapter, is rather simple in concept but unquestionably effective, as is a multiple coin production from a silk and other items. There are some relatively simple but similarly effective card sleights, such as an "action" bottom palm that occurs in the course of a swing cut. This item includes a footnoted credit that is bound to cause a great deal of controversy in some parts; in some cases the footnotes are more interesting than the material, and have unmistakably been written by the editors rather than the authors or publisher. In fact, these footnoted credits often serve to point up the weaknesses inherent in some of this material, being as it sometimes is variations or reinventions of material that we have seen elsewhere. (Although one such footnote claims that "there is nothing new under the sun," a disturbing thought more often in my experience affectionately repeated by thieves rather than creators. This is the statement of a dilletante at best, a boor at worst and I strongly doubt that it was said by the authors. I suspect the editors were trying to gently defend the material and authors, but in this case the cure is far worse than the disease. Please: Keep this kind of drivel to yourself in the future, and think twice—better yet, three times before you convince yourself that you've said something smart.)

There's a lovely visual touch on the hoary old Hindu Force that is a perfect example of what I liked most in this book, namely practical little ideas that won't change the world of magic but that readily deserve a place in any thinking cardician's arsenal. A clever and rather simple fan switch comes packaged with an interesting effect in which an indifferent card withdrawn from a fan suddenly transforms into the selection. Some of the most substantive material is a small section in which Mr. Avis completely dissects and clarifies the notoriously cryptic and arcane work of Dr. Elliott—a masterful card worker early in this century who was the inspiration for Dai Vernon's timeless mantra, "naturalness"—on riffle shuffle run-ups. This is followed by some useful variations on

John Scarne's famed rapid runup method, including for example an opening variant in which you can arrange to deal four of a kind into a chosen hand in all of about 15 seconds.

In all, not an earthshaking book, but one I enjoyed poring over, and from which you're bound to come away from with some useful ideas. Although the prose is occasionally thin—I don't know about you, but when I'm told to use the Kelly Bottom Placement to insert the bottom card of a small packet into the center of the deck to which the packet is being added, I want to know a little more about how to do it than merely being told to do it—the illustrations are up to Earle Oakes' invariably high standard, and produced here as is lately the publisher's want in large size which makes them wonderful to behold.

8 - 1/2" X 11" hardbound with laminated dustjacket; 156 pages; illustrated with 215 line drawings; 1998; Publisher. Kaufman