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Tuesday 24 October 2023

‘The Great Deceiver’ by Elly Griffiths

Published by Quercus,
24 October 2023.
978-1-5294-0-990-1 (HB)

Max Mephisto doesn’t seem able to avoid murder; it seems to dog his footsteps. This time it’s Cherry, the assistant of fellow magician Ted English, whose stage name is The Great Deceiver. Cherry has been found dead in her theatrical digs – and wouldn’t you just know, it happened in Brighton, where his friend Edgar Stephens is head honcho of the local police.

So begins the latest in Elly Griffiths’s Brighton series. It’s now the 1960s, and Max is no longer a variety performer but a famous film star. Edgar has been married to Emma, his former sergeant, for quite a few years, and Emma herself, bored with being a housewife, has teamed up with journalist Sam Collins to form a private detective agency.

Once again Griffiths has created a lively crew of characters and woven a twisty plot around them. Ted English is appearing in a nostalgia show in Brighton, and the performers are mostly holed up in  the same boarding house. There’s Ida the feisty strongwoman, Bigg and Small the sad comics, Mario the second-rate singer, assorted dancers and gymnasts, not forgetting Linda the landlady with an unexpected side. Ted is one of a group of ageing magicians, some now retired from the boards; they include sleazy Pal, who now fronts a popular TV show and seems to know everyone’s secrets.

Between them, Edgar and Emma find their way through a sticky web of clues and misdirection, with the help of stolid DI Bob Willis, plucky WDC Meg Connolly, and of course Max Mephisto, who takes to the boards one last time (with a surprising assistant), to try to smoke out the culprit.

It’s packed with all the elements Elly Griffiths’s many fans have come to love: a keen wit, acute observation, enough description to bring seedy boarding houses, squalid theatre backstage areas, damp offices and sophisticated apartments to life, lots of familiar characters to reacquaint ourselves with and new ones to love or hate. Ruby, Max’s daughter, discovers that motherhood isn’t all cooing and gummy smiles. There’s even romance in the air, to Emma and Edgar’s consternation. And the plot takes us up hill and down dale in search of the truth, with a littering of bodies along the way and a smattering of social comment for good measure.

In short, it’s everything we expect from an Elly Griffiths novel, with a bit extra as there always is. There’s plenty to enjoy, and it left me wanting more.
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 fifteen further novels in the series.  Recently she has written a second series set in Brighton in the 1950’s featuring magician Max Mephisto and DI Stephens. There are seven books in the new series, the most recent being The Great Deceiver published October 2023.

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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