Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths

Smoke And MirrosBrighton, 1915, and a pantomime performance of Babes In The Wood is cut short by the horrific slaughter of one of the “Babes”.

Thirty six years later and it is pantomime season again. Max Mephisto has returned to Brighton to play Abanazar in Aladdin. Music hall is struggling, and work for magicians is thin on the ground, so pantomime is the next best thing. But the newspaper headlines are concentrating on something else – the disappearance of two young children.

When the childrens’ bodies are found, surrounded by sweets, parallels are drawn with the earlier murder, although the perpetrator is long since dead. But the children themselves were working on a play and links keep coming back to the past killings. As the list of suspects grows longer and longer, can DI Edgar Stephens find the truth amongst the smoke and mirrors?

I enjoyed The Zig-Zag Girl, the first in the Magic Men series (sounds much better than Stephens and Mephisto) but was a little disappointed that the magic in the murders didn’t extend to the solution. Here the focus is on the theatre rather than the magic and it works really well. As the plot extends beyond the pantomime and into the horrors of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, I found myself completely gripped.

The central characters are engrossing as well. Edgar Stephens is a fascinating lead, as are Bob and Emma, his detective sergeants (though I’m not sure how likely a female detective sergeant was in 1951). Max, in particular, is a great creation, and when he appears, the book takes a lighter tone, so it is sensible that this is predominantly Stephens’ case, as Elly Griffiths is sensible to never make light of the fact that somebody murdered two children. The use of Grimms’ stories are the ideal dark frame for the tale – very effective.

There are probably one too many red herrings – as more people are discovered that have links to the case, the coincidences come thick and fast – but the resolution is fairly clued. Clearly this series will be continuing for a while, as while there is development for the characters, their stories clearly aren’t over yet. I wonder how the author can keep finding ways to involve Mephisto in the investigations, but I’ll look forward to finding out. Recommended.

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