I somewhat resented this book before I even started it, because it meant Griffiths was taking time away from the Ruth Galloway series, but I should not have worried! Although so far I still like the Galloway series more, this book did not disappoint.
The book is set in post-World War II England and features Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens of the Brighton police. As the story begins, a young woman’s body has been found that had been sawed in three pieces, reminiscent of “the Zig Zag Girl trick” used by magicians. In fact, one of Edgar’s friends, Max Mephisto, also known as “The Master of Illusion,” was thought to have invented the trick. Edgar and Max met while serving in Inverness as part of an MI5 group – “The Magic Men” – assigned with creating false trails for the Germans.
Edgar seeks out Max for advice, and Max is able to identify the dead woman as one of his former assistants. Furthermore, when they go to query another member of the Magic Men, he too is found dead by a murder resembling a magic trick. It begins to look like the Magic Men themselves as well as those associated with them are being targeted. Edgar and Max set out to find the other members of their crew and warn them, never knowing if they will be too late, or will themselves be the next victims.
Discussion: Griffiths did her research well as usual, and did a great job of bringing the post-War world to life, as well as the world of magicians and what it was like to perform on the road at that time. Also, as with her other series, she limns characters with complex psyches showing a mix of self-awareness, self-delusion, and self-deprecation that make them seem like actual people we all can recognize. For me, the characterizations are so good, they make the plot almost irrelevant.
Evaluation: This clever story employing the “misdirection” of magic as a criminal tactic as well as a plot device (in the sense of red herrings and other false trails) introduces some great characters as well. I look forward to more stories in this series.
Published in the U.S. by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015