Review by Jamy Ian Swiss, Genii Magazine (2012)
It's been awhile since Mr. Gagnon's original sleight-of-hand creations have risen above the underground, where his name has been consistently entrenched for many years. But now, after years of preparation, Wesley James has written a volume of Mr. Gagnon's excellent and esoteric card work. This is not technique for the casual practitioner. But if you enjoy expert thinking and expert practice in the realm of close-up sleight-of-hand with playing cards, then Avant-Cards is the most fun book of card magic to arrive in some time.
Most of Mr. Gagnon's technique is designed to be done seated at a table and on an appropriate working surface. If you're comfortable with those working conditions and you like to practice, you will find much in the pages of this book not only to interest and challenge you, but with which you will fool people so hard, you might want to get certified for CPR before trying it out on innocent human beings.
This book consists of eight chapters, and their subtitles provide succinct overviews of the contents and their nature: Gagnon's Spread Pass, Versatile Spread Control, Ribbon Spread Forces, Gagnon Spread Control, Lateral Bottom Deals, Outward Bottom Deals, Bilateral Bottom Deals, and a closing eighth chapter dubbed"Potpourri". Mr. Gagnon approaches these sleights as utility tools, and he explores each technique thoroughly, exploiting its strengths in order to accomplish a wide variety of clear, distinctive, imaginative and magical effects. The Spread Pass is just that - a tabled shift that takes place as one collects a deck that has been ribbon-spread across the close-up pad. It requires practice and precision to execute, but it is not an out-of-reach knuckle-buster. The author goes on to explore the sleight in many variant forms, and with a variety of applications in both method and effect. On the method side, the sleight can be adapted to secretly transfer cards from thebottom to the top (as per Erdnase, and similarly the inspiration for the Vernon double undercut), to the secret placement of a key card, and for the use as a force...as just a few of many examples.
In the section on the Gagnon Spread Control - another table technique - applications are offered to a wide variety of effects, from the Ambitious Card to the Elevator Cards plot (in this latter case, with a Technicolor twist). There is a wealth of magic in this section that makes the techniques worthy of study. The Lateral Palm Deal can certainly be regarded as a utility tool, as well, and again, the author provides a variety of clever material which to apply his inventive work - from ace-cutting routines to pseudo-gambling deals.
In short, we don't see this kind of material often these days, but if you're even the slightest bit interest in this kind of fare, Tom Gagnon's thinking and technique, along with the caliber of his illustrations and the quality of these thorough descriptions, will put them within the reach of many who might previously have been reticent to address such elegant sleight of hand. Avant-Cards is the kind of book that doesn't come around very often, and I highly rcommend you get your hands on it while it's here. And then try those hands on something new, challenging, fun and ultimately - amazing.