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Thursday 17 December 2015

‘Smoke and Mirrors’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus, 
5 November 2015.  
ISBN: 978-1-78429-0263-9

A new novel from Elly Griffiths is always something to look forward to, and her new series, set in 1950s Brighton and featuring a stage magician as well as a more conventional detective inspector, is set fair to rival the Ruth Galloway books which rightly made her a popular and sought-after member of the crime writing community.

Smoke and Mirrors is the second in the series. Two children, Annie and Mark, have gone missing in the weeks before one of the coldest Christmases Brighton has ever experienced. D I Edgar Stephens has his work cut out, battling the elements as well as the children’s oddly reticent family and friends. Meanwhile, Edgar’s wartime chum Max Mephisto, magician extraordinaire, is in pantomime down the road from the police station.

The plot thickens more than a little when Edgar learns that the children were keen and talented amateur playwrights and actors, preparing to mount their latest production in a tiny theatre constructed especially for them by a slightly creepy honorary uncle. And when the children’s bodies are found and Max discovers that a similar crime took place in a theatre almost exactly forty years earlier, the pool of suspects widens to include some of the panto cast and crew.

1950s Brighton comes across loud and clear, complete with shabby theatrical digs, sparse working-class homes and icy streets. The plot, too, is satisfyingly intricate, with plenty of red herrings and misdirection, and a denouement that was hidden in plain sight all along, if only we’d kept our eyes open.

But it’s following the characters’ lives and progress that keeps readers coming back to a series, and Elly Griffiths’s main talent is for creating a lively, engaging and varied bunch to play out her drama. In Smoke and Mirrors there are plenty of sharply-drawn personalities, and even the bit-part players have a real presence. Among the ongoing cast I especially enjoyed feisty detective sergeant Emma, full of initiative and a far better match for Edgar than self-centred chorus girl Ruby. Primary school teacher Daphne is more glamorous than any teacher I’ve ever encountered and mettlesome with it. Max Mephisto adds a touch of slightly seedy elegance, and the panto crew show how theatre really looks behind the onstage lights and colour.

It’s good to see Elly Griffiths spread her wings beyond rural Norfolk. Long may Edgar and Max continue to fight crime among the less savoury elements of postwar Brighton.
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 six 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  and  two books in a  new series set in the 1950’s.

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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