When two boxes which have an unbecoming odour are left at the station’s Left Luggage in Brighton the police are called. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is called to investigate as once opened the contents reveal parts of a human body. When the third and final part is located with a message addressed to Edgar as ‘Captain Stephens’ he remembers a magic trick called the Zig-Zag Girl, not the immediate notion that may spring to any regular policeman’s mind, but Edgar had been part of a special unit during World War II that was made up of a contingent of magicians. Calling themselves The Magic Men their aim was to trick the German’s into thinking Scotland was better defended than it was.
In 1950’s Brighton the world moved at a different pace and Edgar is left to investigate with only a few minor admonishments from his superiors to solve the mystery, and fast. Edgar starts to meet up with the other members of The Magic Men a task that began easily enough as the famous Max Mephisto is currently top of the bill at Brighton’s Theatre Royal, and as the two men catch up on the intervening years we are also treated to the life of a travelling showman with his itinerant lifestyle full of landlady’s in B & B’s and showgirls and the pressing worry that variety shows are no longer the draw they were before the war.
I enjoyed this tale, on the one hand it is a classic mystery story, not too much blood and guts with all the nasty action pretty much taking place off page, and partly a portrait of a different lifestyle in an age when it was still so important to many to give the right impression. Edgar’s mother for instance isn’t impressed with his choice of career, she would have much preferred him to become an academic. The war changed the lives of The Magic Men and not all for the worse, with companionship in this relatively cloistered unit giving Edgar a different outlook on life especially at first when it was completed with a blossoming romance, but things didn’t end well for The Magic Men and after one final failed trick they had disbanded.
I have to admit, I loved Edgar, his lack of grandeur and his obvious hero-worship of the more world-weary Max was touching as was his sense of loyalty towards other members of The Magic Men, Tony and the Major, as well as the elderly Diabolo all of whom were intriguing characters and despite not being drawn in any great amount of depth were great secondary characters.
I have enjoyed Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series rooted as they often are in the past and I was hugely impressed with the way the writing in this book effortlessly transported me to 1950’s Brighton conjuring up a different kind of magic to that of the magicians.
I’d like to thank the publishers Quercus Books for allowing me to read a copy of The Zig-Zag Girl in return for my honest opinion. If you like a complex mystery, learning about a different way of life and a well-told tale, you will probably enjoy this book.
Elly Griffith’s previous books
The Crossing Places
The Janus Stone
The House at Sea’s End
A Room Full of Bones
The Outcast Dead