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Book Talk: Black Fall — the ultimate deception?

Having solved two “impossible” cases (“Angel Killer,” reviewed 9/17/21 and “Name of the Devil,” reviewed 12/8/21), magician-turned-FBI agent Jessica Blackwood is now the go-to sleuth when it comes to unbelievable phenomena. In Andrew Mayne’s “Black Fall” (2017, 368 pages) her familiarity with the use of deception in performing magic is required when an earthquake rocks the East Coast.

The event is not unique or “magical,” but a video has gone viral in which Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Peter Devon “predicts” the event. However, there are two problems. First, the “prophecy” occurs after the event. And, second, Peter Devon has been dead for eight years.

At the time, Agent Blackwood is on a stake-out and confronts a disturbed woman who is clutching a baby. The baby is blue, indicating that it may be dead or dying. As the woman pulls out a knife, she says, “I’m here for your soul, Jessica.” Instinctively, Jessica grabs for the baby while kicking the woman to the ground. Then the woman runs away.

Later, when Detective Aileen Lewis reveals that a Jane Doe corpse matches the description of the baby-toting attacker, Jessica’s boss Dr. Ailes puts her on the case. But, as usual, nothing in Jessica’s life is simple.

Another video of the late Dr. Devon emerges, this one predicting several hundred deaths from a natural disaster in South America. When it occurs, Jessica is pulled between the two cases, but they eventually merge with the discovery of Red Chain, a murderous cult of ecoterrorists who threaten the very existence of governments around the world.

I loved the scene where Jessica is put in the spotlight, a place she never aspires to be, and is asked how it was possible for Devon to foresee the disaster or how modern tricksters or terrorists could have manufactured the mass destruction from an otherwise common storm. Mayne’s writing is so good that we learn a great deal about Jessica’s character in just a few paragraphs.

As “information bombs” (disinformation) reach the public, protests erupt, and police kill a few demonstrators in D.C. Mobs storm the White House, and Jessica opines, “…I’d wager that 90 percent of the people here could give a damn about some greater cause…. They’re here because they feel a sense of self-worth by Instagramming and Facebook updating that they were part of whatever this is.”

It’s apparent that this is a complex plot, and Jessica’s job only gets more convoluted when her ex-boyfriend and current stalker/protector shows up to rescue her. But then an entire town disappears.

I liked this book. It really took a magician to pull everything together at the end, and Mayne was a professional illusionist, working with people like Penn and Teller, David Copperfield, and David Blain. His writing is clear and powerful, and the text is tight. There’s never a dull space, so the reader is compelled to keep turning the pages. I strongly recommend reading the books in order because the storyline from each preceding book enhances the development of plots in the succeeding books.


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Jim Glynn may be contacted at



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