As an ardent fan of the Dr Ruth Galloway Mysteries by Elly Griffiths I was slightly reluctant to start reading this series which she has set in Brighton in the early 1950s. The setting and the time appealed to me, but would these new characters meet my expectations? I decided to plunge in with a package of the first three books together.
THE ZIG ZAG GIRL
When a girl’s body is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, magician Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy army unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the variety circuit and is reluctant 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 the killer’s sights…
DI Edgar Stephens is an intelligent, hard-working detective who treats his colleagues with respect and has a limited social life. But the appearance of a girl’s body in three separate cases prompts him to make contact with his old friend, Max Mephisto, who was part of a group of “Magic Men” working for the army during the war. Max is a tall, charismatic figure with a good heart but a reputation for moving from one lady friend to another. He and Edgar are good for each other and combining their skills they begin to solve the murder mystery.
It took me time to get to know these characters but gradually I came to like Edgar Stephens and to hope for his happiness as well as a solution to the crime.
SMOKE AND MIRRORS
It is mid-winter in Brighton, pantomime season. Two missing children are found buried under snow in this chilling new case for DI Stephens and Max Mephisto, the latter starring in Aladdin. With fairy tales in the air, it’s not long before the press have found a nickname for the case: ‘Hansel and Gretel’. DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The missing girl, Annie, used to write plays and perform them with her friends. Does the clue lie in Annie’s unfinished – and rather disturbing – last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric actor types who have assembled for the pantomime? Once again Edgar enlists Max’s help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key.
I found this story more engaging and it was good to get to know Edgar’s sergeants, Emma and Bob. Emma, an ex Roedean girl, keeps her wealthy background quiet and is ahead of her time as a self-reliant feminist. Bob appears to be gruff and old fashioned, but he is observant and careful. Although sometimes jostling for responsibility Emma and Bob make a successful crime-solving team.
This is a fast-moving story about missing children interwoven with an account of events at the pantomime in which Max, the magician is starring. It is a clever plot and compelling reading.
THE BLOOD CARD
Elizabeth II’s coronation is looming, but the murder of their wartime commander, Colonel Cartwright, spoils the happy mood for DI Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto. A playbill featuring another deceased comrade is found in Colonel Cartwright’s possession, and a playing card, the ace of hearts: the blood card. The wartime connection and the suggestion of magic are enough for Stephens and Mephisto to be summoned to the case. Edgar is sent to New York on the trail of a small-town mesmerist who may provide the key, but someone silences him first. It is Edgar’s colleague, DS Emma Holmes, who finds the clue that leads them to an anarchist group intent on providing an explosive finale to Coronation Day.
This book takes us to 1953 when the country is excitedly preparing for the coronation of Elizabeth II. Max Mephisto has been invited to star in a new TV show on Coronation day while Edwin is entangled in discovering an anarchist group who may be planning a dangerous attack that day. There is a delightful description of his first flight to New York and his nervous drive to interview an informant. Back in England Edwin is unaware that two women now vie for his affections but he realises that the sad drowning of a popular gypsy fortune teller in Brighton may be linked to the explosive threat.
This book confirms that Elly Griffiths can successfully combine realistic relationship complications, with humour and thrilling events and I am now firmly a fan of the Brighton series too!
The Brighton Mysteries on Amazon UK
Or The Zig Zag Girl Book 1 on its own