It's been several years since I've read a Richard Matheson (according to my notes, the last book of his I read was the Noir omnibus, back in 2006), and while I still think he has an effective, intriguing style, I have to say, his stuff just doesn't have the same punch as it used to. I don't think it's him, necessarily, but what he wrote earlier in his career seemed to be better than what he wrote later on. Now You See It... falls into his later oeuvre, and it's ... well, honestly, it's a little stupid.
The story is a suspense/murder mystery novel that focuses on The Great Delacorte, a famous magician. The Great Delacorte comprises two different people: the original Emil Delacorte, who was one of the most famous magicians from the 1920s through the 1960s. A stroke renders him unable to perform, so his son, Maximilian, takes over the role of The Great Delacorte. This isn't a part of the story itself, but it sets the background for why Emil, paralyzed, mute, and confined to a wheelchair, is the witness for the events that take place in the story. The story is about Max, his agent Harry, his second wife Cassandra, and his brother-in-law Brian, and the complicated matter of murder and revenge that take place. Emil is the unwitting witness and ultimate narrator of the entire story.
Now You See It... is one of those stories where you're always one step behind what's actually happening, so you never have all the pieces of the puzzle to put it all together on your own. Parts of it work really well — one of the main characters is an accomplished magician, so the sleight-of-hand and manipulation that takes place is very believable — but other parts of it strain credibility. Early in the novel, there's a scene that illustrates the importance of disguises, but by the end of it all, you'll wonder if Matheson overdid it a bit. At least, I did.
The book (narrative) has a particular style (parenthetical) that gets really aggravating (annoying) since it starts off that way (in the beginning) and then just keeps on going from there (ad infinitum). I won't deny that it gave the novel a sense of immediacy, through steam-of-consciousness, but it certainly took some getting used to, especially when it just never seemed to stop. I don’t know what it feels like to get shot in the legs by a machine gun, but I imagine it’s something close to being peppered with those parenthetical asides every few sentences.
Like most of Matheson's works, Now You See It... is a minimalist novel, without any extraneous symbolism or theme to get in the way of a rapid-fire story. Parts of it are tedious — the animosity between Cassandra and Max is strained to the point of it feeling like a parody of itself — but most of it is there to keep you reading. There really aren't many points to pause once you get started, as the story keeps building toward its resolution, so if you want to read it, you might want to make sure you don't have anything else to do until you finish it. The novel is a short one (220 pages), so it shouldn't take more than a couple of hours.
The story is strained and, honestly, a bit stupid, but Matheson pulls it off in his usual style. Anyone who likes his writing style will find it here, as well, but it's important to note that it can't compare with his classics, like "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" or I Am Legend. So long as you're not expecting something at that level, you should be fine.