Take a seat, front row center, and get ready for a show, as Elly Griffiths weaves her authorial magic on a new stage. Leaving her popular Ruth Galloway series aside for the moment, Griffiths enters the world of showmanship and sleight of hand, focusing on a very special troupe of magicians. For her first trick, a stunning stage moment—the beautiful assistant sawn in three and miraculously restored to wholeness—has been appropriated by a criminal mind not at all interested in putting the pieces back together. When crated body parts start showing up at DI Edgar Stephens’ office, he recognizes the props, though the contents are all too real.
Griffiths paints the modest, intellectual Edgar in stark contrast to his best friend and famous magician, the glitzy Max Mephisto, as the two band together to solve the “zig zag girl” murder and the increasingly bizarre deaths that follow. The combination allows Griffiths to shift the focus from the murders to the men’s shared history and back again in sections that mimic the magician’s routine—the Buildup, Misdirection, Raising the Stakes and the Reveal.
It’s effective in part because Edgar, Max and the rest of the Magic Men become familiar through their fascinating history as magicians who worked covertly for the government during World War II, a backstory modeled on the real-life Magic Gang that served as camouflage experts in that war. As the triumphs and rivalries of their past become clearer, the reader grows attached to the group but also suspicious of some of its members.
Similarly, Griffiths contrasts a fairly light tone, and nostalgic setting—her hometown of Brighton, in 1950—with some vivid and gruesome murders. The jolts of shock keep interest high, but readers will essentially feel safe in her expert hands.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Griffiths for The Zig Zag Girl.