Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Smoke and Mirrors – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 5*s
Crime Fiction

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.

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Zig-Zag Girl – Elly Griffiths

Crime Fiction 4*'s
Crime Fiction

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
Dying Fall
The Outcast Dead

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

Want You Dead – Peter James

Crime Thriller 5*'s
Crime Thriller

In the tenth outing for Roy Grace we meet Karl Murphy, ‘a decent and kind man, a family doctor with two small children whom he was bringing up on his own.’ Karl was not someone who expected that anyone could possible hate him enough to want him dead. After all when we meet him he is preparing for a date with Red Westwood, an estate agent he’d met through a mutual friend.

It isn’t very long until the bodies start piling up for Roy Grace, slightly inconveniently, as he is preparing for his wedding to Cleo complete with a short honeymoon without baby Noah. For me half of the pleasure in this series is meeting the characters who seem like old friends. Roy Grace is a solid Police Officer, heading up a team of distinct but likable characters in the now familiar Brighton and Hove. All my favourites are there, not unchanged, because that would be implausible, but still instantly recognisable such as the socially inept Norman Potting, Grace’s second in command, Glenn Branson, and the dedicated and tenacious Bella Moy. However this book’s focus isn’t merely about solving a crime, it about the crime, the perpetrator and the victim. The reader is one step ahead of Grace and his team via the narration by a man on a mission, a man with an obsession and a man who has a plan! We also have insight into the woman being hunted, the effects on her life and her family. And then we have Grace and his team trying to work out why, how and when the next devastating attack is going to be.

I always clear my schedule for the release of the latest in this series, which is a rare honour, because is that they are all immensely readable, ingenious plots, current and believable, in this case a little too believable for comfort. With reliable characterisation to back up this list of accolades it is one book of the year that I KNOW I am going to enjoy, this one was no different. Now, I’m looking forward to discovering what the wispy ends that have been left hanging, will tie up to next time.

This series stands head and shoulders among most of Peter James competitors something clearly illustrated in this novel.  It is a confident and accomplished writer that can produce a book that with plenty of surprises along the way that made me gasp, wince and stifle a sob, despite knowing more than Grace and his team and is one not to be missed for fans of this series. You haven’t read one? Why ever not? Start at the beginning with Dead Simple.

I would like to thank the publishers Pan Macmillan for providing me with a review copy ahead of the publication date of 2 June 2014 in return for this honest review.

Roy Grace Series by Peter James books in order:

Dead Simple
Looking Good Dead
Not Dead Enough
Dead Man’s Footsteps
Dead Tomorrow
Dead Like You
Dead Man’s Grip
Not Dead Yet
Dead Man’s Time
Want You Dead

Other books I’d recommend that feature stalkers

The Book of You – Claire Kendal
Sleep Tight – Rachel Abbott