By Rhonda Johnson
Updated January 13, 1995 at 05:00 AM EST

There is something perversely fascinating about a talented person with a death wish; the ever-popular Houdini has perhaps continued to interest us because his talent was his death wish, which he enacted to an adoring public in Europe and America during the turn of the century. He escaped from straitjackets while hanging upside down from the top of tall buildings, and from handcuffs after being thrown into an icy sea, performing his daring stunts up to his mysterious death in 1926 at the age of 52. Despite Ruth Brandon’s dogged attempts to ferret out the truth about Houdini’s much-mythologized personal life, and to reveal the secrets behind his thrilling performances, America’s great escape artist remains a somewhat elusive character in The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini. The Great Houdini retains his magic, even after we know where he hid the keys to the handcuffs. B+