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Masters of Illusion: A Novel of the Great Circus Fire

“Even for readers who have never heard of the circus fire, there is something haunting here. The circus band, we learn kept playing amid the flames and screams, and enough of that ghastly music echoes through Masters of Illusion to keep us in our seats.”

The New York Times Book Review

“This novel about the great Hartford circus fire of July 6, 1944 is exceptionally absorbing. The book’s characters are rendered with insight, and the story itself is arresting. Above all the mystery of the fire’s origin is solved in a completely satisfying, credible and thoroughly shocking denouement.”
The Boston Globe

“Smith’s gripping novel is both a detective story and a psychological study of obsession... and repression... that comes to a truly smashing conclusion.”
The Dallas Morning News

“Enriched by subtle irony and poignant, sometimes brutal imagery, Smith’s fourth novel is a perceptive examination of how unforeseen events and oppressive secrets can affect behavior and shape our lives. The story has as its center a horrifying and all-too-real catastrophe brought to vivid life by the author’s authentic and convincing details. From the beginning, Smith brilliantly crafts an absorbing tale of love, obsession, and mystery rising from the ashes of an unforgettable conflagration. Masters of Illusion is a well-written, insightful and ultimately suspenseful story that will hold the reader’s attention from start to finish.”
The San Diego Citizen

“The Hartford Circus Fire of 1944 is legendary in the history of that state, and with good reason. As a catastrophe it had the elements necessary for an unforgettable narrative: a sufficient magnitude of horror, an array of appalling attendant ironies and a tantalizing mystery at its heart. Smith presents us with another story of investigation, in which the attempt to get at the truth of what happened that day is paralleled, first metaphorically and then literally, by the attempt to get to the bottom of a family’s dysfunction. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” replayed again and again, the novel is then in the position of continually rehashing the events of the fire, an aesthetic problem it handles with dexterity.”
The Los Angeles Times

“The intrusion of the past into the lives of Charlie and Margie O'Neill is revealed in a deceptively simple story with its roots in the historical 1944 Barnum & Bailey circus tent fire, in Hartford, Connecticut, which killed more than 150 people and injured over a thousand women and children... this is a book with quiet appeal, likeable characters and good psychological insights.”
Library Journal

“On July 6, 1944, 169 people died and more than 1,000 were injured in a circus fire in Hartford, Connecticut. Margie Potter is only six months old when her mother is killed, and she herself is badly burned in the fire, but the event marks the rest of her life. When she is 18, she meets and marries Charlie O'Neill, a fireman whose special interest is what happened at the circus fire; having grown up with just her father, Margie is both fascinated and repelled by Charlie's large family, with his brutal father and passive mother. After he and Margie marry, Charlie's interest in the circus fire becomes an obsession. His quest eventually takes him and Margie to Canada, where a psychopath has confessed to setting the fire. This novel is a curious mix--a suspense story on one level; on another level, a story about a marriage; and on yet another, a novel about the horrifying effects of being raised in an abusive family.”

“The fire that roared through the Barnum & Bailey Circus tent in Hartford, Conn., on July 6, 1944, took 169 lives and injured 2000 others. Tirone-Smith (The Book of Phoebe) makes that conflagration central to her new novel, a skillfully controlled, moving psychological exploration of secrets, traumas and family relationships... She keeps the prose cool and spare, so that when harrowing details and jolting surprises gradually occur, the effect is potent. The final epiphany opens the narrative in an extraordinary way, forcing the reader to reassess everything. This daringly imagined novel adds a new dimension to an already impressive body of work.”
Publishers Weekly