Tag Archives: Elly Griffiths

Smoke And Mirrors By Elly Griffiths

A few weeks ago we featured The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths. Her second novel in this series of Stephens & Mephisto Mysteries came out last month. Smoke And Mirrors is set a year later in 1951, this time Brighton is snow-bound during the run up to Christmas. Much as I loved the opening novel – this is one of the best new series I’ve come across in years – Smoke And Mirrors is even stronger.

Two school-children have vanished and there’s a frantic search to find them in the snow. On Palace pier, rehearsals are underway for panto season and the plot echoes with the dark origins of fairy tales. There are lots of engaging detail about the world of provincial theatres with their larger than life characters and seedy illusion.

It’s probably true of any series crime novels that the reader is looking forward to revisiting the detective and sidekick, the police team and their location. For the writer there’s a comfortable feeling that the regulars and setting have been established and now simply have to be built upon. Elly Griffiths does this admirably.

Her detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and his old friend Max Mephisto, a famous stage magician, are very likeable with well-drawn back stories. In this novel we get a wider view of their lives, meeting characters previously mentioned. The police sergeant is interesting and believable as is the new female member of the team.

Brighton is Elly Griffiths’ home town and she describes it with love and detailed knowledge, using real streets and locations. It’s a wonderfully atmospheric portrait – from the cold seafront with the pier theatre lit up in the darkness to the long icy hills up to the poorer edge of town and the bleak downland of Devil’s Dyke.

I like the way she uses the town’s real historic police station where the CID offices are subterranean and there’s even said to be the ghost of a chief constable murdered there in 1844. These days it’s a police museum, a fascinating place to visit. (The Old Police Cells Museum at Brighton Town Hall).

Smoke And Mirrors has plenty of suspects and is packed with red herrings. The final reveal is credible and satisfying. It stands perfectly well on its own but as with any series, it’s even more enjoyable if you know the background from the first novel.

A superb read and as a Christmas detective novel, it would make a great present.

 

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The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

The Zig Zag Girl is one of those detective novels that linger in the mind. I enjoyed reading it so much that I was sorry to part company with the lead characters. Fortunately the second novel in this new series is out next month.

The setting is Brighton in 1950. A time when Britain was still exhausted by winning the war. Limping into a new world past bomb-sites and still clutching ration-books. I know Brighton and the other south coast resorts featured very well and Elly Griffiths captures them perfectly. This novel has a wonderful sense of time and place.

In fact it offers everything the reader of crime fiction desires, a terrific plot with a fascinating theme, an engaging pair of detectives – one is unofficial – and a dazzling conclusion.

Inspector Edgar Stephens is diffident, likable and has a very believable background. He also has an intriguing back-story from the war. One theme of The Zig Zag Girl is the world of variety and magic; backstage showbiz with its seedy, spurious glamour, all distraction, mis-direction and illusion. A wonderful setting for the twists and reveals of a detective novel.

When a girl is murdered in singular circumstances, Inspector Stephens turns to his old friend Max for advice. Max Mephisto is a famous stage magician, uniquely well-placed to help Edgar find someone who performs the deadliest of tricks.
Edgar and Max are brilliantly written, making you want to know what they do next. The most minor characters are vividly brought to life in a few lines. A tense, flowing plot makes it hard to put the book down and all sorts of small loose ends are satisfyingly revealed.

One of my best finds this year. The next novel Smoke And Mirrors is out next month.

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