By Robert A. Heinlein
Published by Brilliance Audio
Read by MacLeod Andrews
This short novel has frequently been published with Waldo. I’m not really sure why save that together they make a book thick enough to bother printing and putting on a shelf and still be able to read the title on the spine. I’m not sure why I did not listen to this one when I listened to Waldo. Perhaps because they are such different stories? Perhaps. The story’s original title, however was The Devil Makes the Law.
Magic, Inc. is set in a world where magic is used to do everything, possibly even brushing one’s own teeth. Other than that, the world seems pretty normal, if a world infested by elementals, demons and other fantastic creatures is normal. It seems that way to me, but I write stories like that too. In fact I am planning a story right now that as I listened to this one I realized must have been inspired in part by Magic, Inc., but I shall tell you about that after I have actually written it.
Heinlein wastes no time setting up the story and it starts with our protagonist, Archie Fraser, a building contractor, encountering a shake-down artist attempting to pull a protection racket deal on him. Archie manages to scare the small-timer off, but that is hardly the end of the matter. When his business begins to suffer – mysterious accidents, elemental attacks and hexes – Archie seeks out the help of a friend and together they eventually find some real help for Archie.
Their first consultation turns out to be with a charlatan who attempts to inveigle a high fee from them just for considering their case, but magicians supposedly work on contingency and they refuse to pay. Then they find Mrs. Jennings a tea leaf reader who is obviously more than she seems.
This is an early work by Heinlein, published first in 1940. In some ways it feels like he was still defining his voice at that point. The story is lighter even that the juveniles he was known for a decade later, but this still has features we associate with Heinlein’s fiction; the independent-minded lead character with a bit of flavor of “Father Knows Best” to him which is completely undermined by a strong female character. We also see the familiar “armed citizen” who is never cowed by mere threats.
The story might be a bit thin by today’s standards or even compared to his later works, but I still find it entertaining which, to me, is the whole point of fiction.
I very much enjoyed listening to MacLeod Andrews’ reading of this story. His smooth, professional voice handles the characters well. He does play a bit with vocal mannerisms and accents here and there but hardly even goes over the top with them. The closest he comes to “funny voices” is the “old lady” voice that he uses for Mrs. Jennings. Even that, however is appropriate. She is an old lady, at least when we first meet her. The voices are no more exaggerated than one might normally encounter in normal conversation. His pacing is good and matches the story well.
So, what we have here is a very early story by Robert Heinlein that remains fun to read or listen to nearly three quarters of a century later and a very good reading of it. A very enjoyable experience all told.