This series is so refreshing with the murders somehow far more of a puzzle than centre stage – that place belongs to the safe pair of hands which belong to DI Edgar Stephens.
The year is 1953 and the month is December and in those days snow was more or less a certain event and so the detectives have the weather to contend with as they tramp, often on foot, to the crime scene and the police station.
The book opens with the murder of a young woman at a boarding house in Brighton run by the formidable Edna Wright and her somewhat less formidable husband, Norris. Edgar had attended the scene after the latter had opened the door to find the young Lily Burtenshaw’s body arranged as if part of a tableau. Sergeant Bob Willis is also attending in charge of the new piece of equipment, the camera which will document everything rather than relying on memory.
Of course along with Edna and Norris the other occupants of the boarding house have to be interviewed and among them are two young women who are sharing the bill with Max Mephisto at the Brighton Hippodrome. Max is performing magic alongside his daughter Ruby with the finale using a life-size vanishing box. It won’t be long before their magic act moves to television at the behest of their manager Joe Passolini.
With Edgar and Max having served together as the band of Magic Men in World War II along with their collaboration on previous murders he shares some of the details, especially as it seems there may just be a link to the variety show. The show features near naked women (with strategically placed feathers) standing stock still in a tableau. Now I don’t know about you, but I didn’t know that this was a thing! Apparently naked women could appear on stage as long as they didn’t move so these tableaux were presumably popular with the male attendees of the variety shows hopeful of a mis-positioned feather! Anyway back to the story… Edgar along with Bob and his female sergeant Emma Holmes ponder and puzzle over the clues when someone else is found murdered.
These books really are delightful, I preferred the setting firmly back in the theatre rather than our brief foray into television in the last book, and the puzzle is an intriguing one. The tone is light although because of the somewhat tangled personal lives of all our favourites the humour isn’t quite of the level of the first two books. I particularly enjoy the period details which are sprinkled throughout the book without the reader ever feeling as if this is overdone, a tip that many other authors tackling the historic angle could take note of. I also like the length of the book, the pace is fairly swift with the personal lives of our favourites woven into the plot seamlessly so that the book doesn’t feel as if these scenes have been added to pad the book out.
If you want the perfect kind of winter read you could do an awful lot worse than to settle into your seat, albeit slightly frayed, at the Brighton Hippodrome, and prepare to be amazed.
I received an ARC of The Vanishing Box from the publishers Quercus Books. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.
Max Mephisto & DI Edgar Stephens Series