This is the second book in a mystery series featuring Detective Edgar Stephens by Elly Griffiths, who also writes the Ruth Galloway mystery series, one of my favorites.
This series is set in post-World War II England. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens of the Brighton police previously served in a World War II group based in Scotland known as “The Magic Men” assigned with creating false trails for the Germans. Some of the others in his group, particularly Max Mephisto and Stan Parks, continue to be a part of Edgar’s life.
In this book, two young children, Annie and Mark, have been killed, with their deaths staged to suggest the Hansel and Gretel story. And in fact, Annie and Mark worked together to put on plays along with their friends, with fairy tales being a common theme.
Edgar, along with his police sergeants Bob Willis and Emma Holmes, are desperate to find the killer, since they know such criminals tend not to strike only once. But the Christmas holidays are approaching, along with the accompanying snow, ice, and cold, to cover up any trails or evidence.
Edgar feels like he has all the pieces to the puzzle, but hasn’t been able to put it together:
“The truth was there, he was sure of it; it was just hard to see. Smoke and mirrors, Max would say. What was real and what was illusion?”
The question is whether he can figure it out in time before another child is harmed.
Discussion: Griffiths does her research well to bring as much verisimilitude as possible to the time and place of her books. She does 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 during the last years before television took over the entertainment world. 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. I don’t like this series as much as her Ruth Galloway books, but it is still entertaining, and worth following.
Evaluation: Once again the author employs the “misdirection” of magic as a criminal tactic as well as a plot device (in the sense of red herrings and other false trails). I look forward to more stories in this series.
Published in the U.S. by Quercus, a member of the Hachette Book Group, 2016