Author: Frank Peretti
Title: Illusion
Publisher: Howard

Illusion is an apt title for the latest thriller from storyteller Frank Peretti. The novel, the first since 2006 from the New York Times-best-selling author, is a classic example of what novelist John Gardner called the “continuous dream” of fiction. The story sucks the reader inside with its mysterious premise, then gradually unfolds into something more. It’s a brilliantly-constructed puzzle box of a novel, but one with a beating heart. Nestled inside the plot’s twists and turns one finds a gentle love story, about a man in his fifties coming to terms without his lifelong companion. In short, it’s a story that’s both quintessential Peretti and something a bit different from what he’s done before, an exciting new chapter in the veteran’s career.

The novel opens with veteran Las Vegas illusionist Dane Collins saying goodbye to his wife–and partner in magic–Mandy Collins, for the last time, as she is wheeled out of a Las Vegas hospital ICU following an auto accident. Before we get the chance to process Dane’s heartbreak over Mandy’s death, the scene shifts to follow Mandy, or some version of her, imagining herself as a 18-year old on the Spokane County Interstate fairgrounds. The year? 2012. And so begins Peretti’s puzzle.

The novel follows both Dane and Mandy as they move slowly, inevitably closer to re-finding each other. Dane moves into the house the couple purchased in Idaho. The new Mandy winds up in a hospital for tests, but escapes and makes her way to Idaho. She soon discovers she has a gift for magic, but realizes it’s not all the smoke-and-mirrors kind. Tennis balls and coins seem to respond to her gesture, moving through the air at her command. She turns this into a small-time magic act at a local coffee shop. Other, more elaborate physics-bending feats follow, including levitation.

While Mandy attempts to come to terms with her powers, Dane struggles to find meaning in a life without his wife. To go much further would risk spilling some of the novel’s delicious secrets, which would be downright mean. It’s enough to say that Peretti hasn’t lost his touch for withholding information until the perfect moment, and delivering on all his storytelling promises. Illusion is a perfect example of the classic “mystery box” approach to storytelling espoused by J.J. Abrams in his famous TED talk. Come to think of it, Abrams credits his philosophy to a magic shop purchase. Coincidence? 

Illusion is deliberately plotted, which occasionally results in a slowing down of the pace. At nearly 500 pages, it’s a bit long for the ground it covers, and could have easily been trimmed for a more straight-ahead approach. The plodding can be forgiven, however, because of the spell the novel casts. Illusion is a gentler, less ferocious tale than much of Peretti’s previous work. He’s still interested in plots that tear at the metaphysical fabric, but the endgame for Illusion holds a surprising amount of warmth. Peretti doesn’t deal in as overtly spiritual themes here either, but his portrayal of a lifetime love and its nuance is startlingly powerful.

In this respect, Illusion might not appeal to traditional Peretti fans, or those expecting the creepiness of The Oath or Monster. But those willing to follow Peretti into his next tale will find themselves spellbound, indeed.