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The book is organized in three sections: Part One – Practical, Part Two – Magical Artistry and Part Three – Direct Mindreading. The first part consists of three intelligent and provocative essays on performance and presentation. Brown takes his performances very seriously and discusses the strategies that allow his audiences to take them seriously as well. This is not meant to imply that he or his performances are humorless—on the contrary, his book and performances exhibit a most lively sense of humor—but never at the expense of the mystery he is cultivating. Brown has extensive restaurant and walk-around performing experience and this section should be required reading for those he think (as he once did) that their goal is simply to perform for as many tables as possible in the allotted time. He discusses numerous examples from his own working repertoire, showing the practical implications of his theoretical discussion.
The second section is a collection of sleight-of-hand card effects. Brown likes the visual card style of his friend Lennart Green and the first effect, “Zamiel’s Card” acknowledges that influence. Real cards are peeled of an imaginary tabled deck until the spectator’s mentally selected card is reached. This uses Brown’s “Figaro Transfer,” a utility move that will surely inspire other applications. This is followed by his “Three Card Routine,” which he confesses is a “marathon” card trick, but one he nonetheless most often uses as an opening effect. Three selected cards undergo a variety of magical experiences of increasing intensity. Brown’s detailed description of this one effect runs to 23 pages, the longest in the book, but those who master it will have added a sophisticated and impressive piece of card conjuring to their repertoires. After a “bit of nonsense” he calls “Magicall” (the deck is apparently used as a cell phone to reveal the selection), Brown details two original sleights, “The Velvet Turnover,” which may be used as a substitute for the double lift in an ambitious card routine, and “The Left Hand Centre Steal.”
The final section of the book will likely generate the most controversy and excitement. It begins with several short essays specific to the performance of contemporary mind reading. Brown belongs to the growing cadre of mentalists who believe that such effects should be powerful and direct while eschewing hackneyed claims of superhuman psychic abilities. He prefers to imply that he is using subtle psychological principles to create the illusion of telepathy, surely an explanation as fascinating—if not more so—to an intelligent audience than a claim of genuine telepathy, particularly when the illusions he creates are so compelling. Brown includes a discussion of “communicative subtleties,” in which information is accessed from the spectators’ subliminal cues. Reference is made to Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) techniques, which Brown has studied, but does not adhere to dogmatically. His essay, “You’re supposed to be reading minds,” may be for some the most useful in the book, as he points out by example the difference between standard mentalism and actual mind reading. For an audience, it is the process of mind reading, as much as the ultimate revelation, that makes such performances fascinating, and Brown’s examples demonstrate this convincingly.
This is followed by “Smoke,” an effect that many would not view as mentalism at all, but it fits the Derren Brown persona in that context perfectly. A mentally selected card is revealed by the performer, then shown not to have been in the deck at all, and finally revealed as (not in!) the cigarette he has apparently been smoking the whole while. Certainly not standard mentalism, but it creates the cognitive dissonance Brown is aiming for: Did he make the spectator think of a card that was never there, and did we only imagine him lighting a cigarette? Next is “Plerophoria,” an increasingly complex and impressive divination of cards from a repeatedly shuffled deck out of the performer’s control. “Perfect Coin Reading,” is a date divination that, alas, will currently only work in the UK, though it may stimulate thinking along similar lines in other countries. Brown uses it as a lead-in to having the coin bend in the spectator’s hand, with some interesting presentational touches. Transformation is another card trick that does not fit the standard idea of mentalism: a spectator chooses three cards which form the basis of a cold reading. Ultimately they transform into three Aces, which then become a single Joker. Although accomplished by sleight-of-hand, it is done on the offbeat, with no visible manipulation, and in the context of the reading, making it potentially a very powerful personal experience for the spectator. The final bit of technical information in the book is Brown’s handling of two verbal card forces. Through the use of physical and verbal cues, Brown virtually compels the choices. This may seem so bold as to be obvious when reading it, but properly performed, Brown assures us it is effective without being obvious.
The book concludes with some final thoughts, thank you’s, two satirical magic catalog advertisements, and page of celebrity caricatures by Brown, who is also an accomplished visual artist. The sleight of hand skills required for the material are advanced: the Tenkai palm, the pass, etc. Those who lack such skills would still learn much by studying Browns’ presentational strategies, psychological ploys and the structure of his effects.