Carter Beats the Devil, Glen David Gold’s splendidly imaginative debut, was a Jonathan Creek-style mystery caper with a stage magician – the real-life illusionist Charles Carter – as its hero; set in 1923, it centred on the enigmatic death in office of President Warren Harding, and encompassed political scandals, showbiz rivalry, rotten tycoons, sinister spooks and the invention of television.
His follow-up takes place a little earlier, between 1916 and 1919 (one of several US novels this year, in fact, to be drawn to the time of Woodrow Wilson’s presidency); it, too, novelises a period in the life of a real, charismatic entertainer, the far more famous – but on this evidence rather less admirable – Charlie Chaplin.
Sunnyside, which wryly borrows its title from one of his films, portrays a Chaplin in turmoil, perhaps undergoing a breakdown. Control of his own studio only serves to multiply his troubles. Frustrated by the limitations of silent films about The Tramp, he longs to produce work that reflects