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Thursday 23 February 2023

‘Death and the Conjuror’ by Tom Mead

Published by Head of Zeus,
2 February 2023.
ISBN: 978-1-80454089-3 (HB)

Take a setting with glamour on the surface but something darker lurking underneath: the theatre, perhaps, or the wider arts world. Add a cast of characters with the same fertile mix of glitter and shadow. Throw in a couple of crimes – maybe the theft of a priceless artefact, possibly even a murder or two. Then shroud the entire scenario in mystery, so that the crimes appear impossible, the characters all have secrets, and even the setting isn’t all it appears.

A story is beginning to take shape. So why not place it in an era that has become notoriously connected with the fictional variety of mystery which is invariably more complex and mysterious than real life: the Golden Age of crime fiction. And put it in the hands of a writer already acclaimed for his short stories and now relishing the chance to pick up the gauntlet of a longer work. The result is Death and the Conjuror, the debut novel of Tom Mead.

Dr Anselm Rees, psychiatrist to the stars, has been murdered in his study. No weapon has been found; the killer left no trace; and the door and windows are locked from the inside. Meanwhile, a valuable painting has disappeared from its impregnable hiding place. It’s an old-fashioned locked room mystery, set fair to challenge the detecting skills of the most adept sleuths, professional and amateur.

The best minds of Scotland Yard, represented by the redoubtable Inspector Flint and his sergeant, are stumped by a total absence of evidence in both cases. Enter Joseph Spector, retired stage magician with a knack for solving impossible crimes. He is only one member of that secretive – and distinctly quirky – cast, some of whom are literally in the cast of Miss Death, a play which has been enjoying a successful first night while the dark doings were in progress. In the frame, or at least in the story, are several of the murder victim’s patients, including Della Cookson, star of stage and especially of Miss Death. There’s also a reclusive novelist, and a concert musician. And then there’s the mystifying man in the long black coat...

Will the culprit be uncovered before he (or she, of course) can wreak any further mayhem? Can Flint and Spector pool their resources to find the key to the mystery of the locked room? And will Anselm Rees’s brilliant and capable daughter really marry her feeble excuse for a fiancé?

No spoilers here. Fans of Golden Age mysteries, the original kind or a more modern version, have a treat in store.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Tom Mead is a UK-based author specializing in crime fiction. His stories have appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Litro Online, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Lighthouse, Mystery Scene and Mystery Weekly (among others). Several of his pieces have also been anthologized, most recently “Heatwave” in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (ed. Lee Child). He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association and the International Thriller Writers’ Organization.

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 in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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