BILL PRONZINI & MICHAEL J. KURLAND “Vanishing Act.” Short story. Christopher Steele #2. First published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January 1976. Collected in Stacked Deck (Pulphouse Publishing: Author’s Choice Monthly #2, paperback, November 1991). Reprinted in Tantalizing Locked Room Mysteries, edited by Isaac Asimov, Charles G. Waugh, & Martin Harry Greenberg (Walker & Co. hardcover, 1982).

   Christopher Steele is a working magician who solved one earlier case “Quicker Than the Eye,” a novelette which appeared a few months earlier, also in AHMM, but back in the September 1975 issue. In his preface to Stacked Deck, Pronzini calls both stories “impossible crimes,” which is quite correct, a small genre of detective stories that easily include every true locked room mystery as an even smaller subset.

   In “Vanishing Act,” a magician performing on stage before Steele is schedules to appear is killed in full view of a large audience including a cadre of freshly minted police cadets. The assailant then dashes off stage into a corridor leading nowhere, but in spite of all efforts, no trace of him can be found.

   The telling of an impossible crime mystery is very much like the creation of a magic trick. The fun in each case is in watching and reading them, but magicians have a huge advantage. They can keep their secrets. Detective story writers can’t. To their credit, Pronzini and Kurland make the solution as interesting as the rest of the story.

   Christopher Steele was intended to be a series character, but as Pronzini also tells us, for some reason it never happened. As far as I’m concerned, that’s really too bad. This one was a joy to read.