I enjoy Elly Griffiths’ books, though I haven’t remotely kept up with her prolific output –see my reviews of The Crossing Places, The Janus Stone and A Room Full of Bones , which all feature Ruth Galloway. I have also become a huge fan of her latest series, the Harbinger Kaur series, see my reviews of The Stranger Diaries and The Postscript Murders. So I was intrigued to check out her other series, set in the 1950s featuring two very different men linked by their experiences in the war, Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto.
BLURB: Brighton, 1950. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger…
REVIEW: For me, part of the enjoyment is that I live reasonably close to Brighton and know of many of the landmarks that Griffiths describes in her book – that said, it would be a rather lame reason to tuck into any book, unless the plotting, characterisation and worldbuilding weren’t also spot on. Fortunately, Griffiths is a solidly good writer, so they are. I thoroughly enjoyed the worldbuilding – the rather subdued atmosphere where everyone is still recovering from WWII is brilliantly done, along with a host of nicely added details, making this setting thoroughly believable.
The plotting is also excellent – as it should be, given that Griffiths is an experienced author of a best-selling murder mystery series. I quickly became caught up in the unfolding drama and flew through this book as the pages more or less turned themselves – always a sign that I am caught up in the world and its problems. But for me, Griffiths’ superpower is her characterisation. This book is mostly from the viewpoint of both Mephisto and Stephens, two very different people with a totally different world view. While I initially preferred Edgar, as the book wore on, I became increasingly intrigued by Max and what actually drives him.
The way both characters developed and expanded into complex, three-dimensional characters with occasional flashes of humour in amongst the serious business of tracking down a serial killer, worked very well. I have found myself thinking of this one since I finished reading and I’m delighted to discover that Himself has also bought the second book in the series – the man is a treasure! Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys engrossing, well plotted whodunits set in an enjoyably detailed historical seaside town.