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Thursday 6 November 2014

‘The Zig Zag Girl’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus in hardback,
6 November 2014.
ISBN: 978-1-84866-985-7

I have to confess to a smidgen of disappointment when I realized that The Zig Zag Girl wasn’t a new addition to Elly Griffiths’s wonderful Ruth Galloway series, featuring the bleakly beautiful Norfolk landscape and a forensic archaeologist with real, human problems. But I should have known better. There’s absolutely nothing disappointing about Griffiths’s venture into post-war Brighton and a world of variety theatre and stage magic.

With a background based loosely on snippets picked up from the author’s music hall comedian grandfather, the narrative follows a detective inspector and a top-of-the-bill magician as they pursue a murderer whose modus operandi is to recreate stage illusions, though with fatal consequences: The Zig Zag Girl of the title, in which a girl appears to be cut into three pieces, a cupboard pierced with swords, and the sinister Wolf Trap.

From the outset the mystery seems to have its roots in the wartime past, when Edgar, the DI, and Max, the magician, were part of a special forces team set up to create illusions to fool the Germans into backing off from a potential invasion.

As in the Ruth Galloway series, there’s an intriguing cast of characters including a couple of feisty women, and for both leading players there’s a sense of not quite being in control of the situation. The case is something of a rite of passage for Edgar, still settling into a role he is ambivalent about. Max has begun to realize that the days of music hall are numbered; television is in its infancy, but about to become the next big thing, and Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is playing to full houses while variety shows are waning in popularity.

The theatrical environment – grubby dressing rooms, shabby lodgings – comes across loud and clear too; Griffths has a keen nose for atmosphere, both for this and for the kind of semi-detached lower-middle-class home and attitudes which proliferated during the post-war period.

I’ll be glad to see additions to the Ruth Galloway series, but it’s also good to know that Elly Griffiths has more than one string to her bow. If Edgar and Max develop into a series, I’ll certainly be following their adventures.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Elly Griffiths is the author of a series of crime novels set in England’s Norfolk county and featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. The first in the series, Crossing Places, earned a good deal of praise both in Griffiths’ native country, England, and in the U.S. The Literary Review termed it “a cleverly plotted and
extremely interesting first novel, highly recommended.  Since then Elly has written five further novels featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, The Janus Stone, The House at Seas End, A Room Full of Bones, Dying Fall. The Outcast Dead is her latest book is 

 Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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