November 1951 and DI Edgar Stephens Sergeant Bob Willis and Sergeant Emma Holmes are carrying out an investigation into two children have gone missing, one minute they were going to buy sweets, the next they’d disappeared into thin air. With snow falling the police have a huge task ahead of them while the local community do their best to assist in the search.
Meanwhile with pantomime season approaching, Max Mephisto is busy rehearsing for Aladdin. Playing the part of Abanazar which allows him to perform some of his amazing magic tricks, performing alongside the Great Diablo and close to his old friend Edgar he’s far from despondent at the thought of the upcoming stint on Brighton Pier. But with the headlines screaming about The Babes in the Woods the locals aren’t really into the pantomime spirit; mothers are anxious about their children and vigilantes are staking out the sweet shop, convinced the owner had something to do with the disappearance of Annie and Mark. It doesn’t take long for Edgar to call on Max for assistance, perhaps the former Magic Man can see the sleight of hand that took place to spirit the youngsters away.
This series which began with The Zig-Zag Girl, feels entirely different to any other crime series, of course the historical feel has a lot to do with that, something which is reflected in a much gentler writing style than modern crime fiction. Despite the nature of the crime in this book, there is no overt violence but rather a complex puzzle to solve and there are no shortage of leads to follow, one of which links to a murder of a young actress in a production of Babes in the Wood before WWI, but as the culprit was caught and hanged for his crime, Edgar is at a loss as to what the connection could be. This lead plus the fact that Annie was keen on the theatre and had been in the middle of rehearsing her own play, Hansel and Gretel, with her siblings and younger friends the police turn to the old fairy tales for clues. All of which makes for fascinating reading on an entirely different level than I’ve come to expect in crime fiction.
There are details which relate to the first instalment in this series mainly in the form of many of the characters but where some of those who played a big role in that first episode are relegated to bit parts in this rich sequel although I think that there is enough information included, without endless repetition, for someone to read this as a standalone book. One thing is for sure, this is a book with its varied, yet easily identifiable characters has a feeling of lightness about it at times, as well as being unexpectedly emotional at others; I actually shed a small tear at the end of this book. DI Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto have stolen my heart!
I’d like to thank Quercus Books for allowing me to read a copy of this book before publication on 5 November 2015 in return for my honest opinion. A perfect book for winter reading, and one where the author hasn’t felt the need to provide her readers with a doorstopper, this book clocks in at a very reasonable 352 pages.