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From the window of his bedroom, Eli can see into the projectionist’s booth of the nearby movie theatre, and often watches the flickering lights to see if he can work out what movie is showing. But one evening what he sees is a body lying motionless on the floor. When the police arrive, they find all the elements of a classic ‘locked room’ mystery. The projectionist lies dead with the murder weapon nearby, but the door is locked on the inside, the window is tiny and barred, and the gaps through which the films are projected are too small for anyone to get through. They also find an empty film can…
I love this series. Eli is a great character – a stage magician with a fun sense of humour, who’s always getting mixed up in murders either through his job or because of his connection to his ex-wife, the delightfully named Assistant District Attorney Deirdre Sutton-Hutton and her new husband, Homicide Detective Fred Hutton. Eli’s back together with his girlfriend Megan, the psychic, in this one, although he’s suffering from wild jealousy because she’s become friendly with another visiting magician, Quinton Moon. Not only is Quinton charming and good-looking, he’s also a much better magician than Eli, so it’s hardly surprising Eli’s teeth grind every time his name is mentioned.
Eli is still living with his elderly uncle, above the magic shop which they jointly run. The regulars are all back and, as always, add a good deal of fun to the story. But, for all the warmth and humour in these books, I wouldn’t quite class them as cosies. The plots are always strong and though there is the ongoing romance between Eli and Megan this never takes over from the crime and investigation element. Eli’s connection to the police gets over the awkwardness of the amateur detective element, and this book sees the reappearance of the shady and scary underworld figure, known only as ‘Harry Lime’, who débuted in the last book, The Bullet Catch.
It’s ‘Harry Lime’ who puts Eli onto the probable motive for the crime – he is convinced that the film can had contained a (real) lost masterpiece, London After Midnight. And he’s also able to provide a list of the people most likely to be keen to acquire such a prize. It’s now up to Eli and the police to investigate them and to solve the mystery of how the murderer managed to carry out the crime. As always, Gaspard comes up with some quirky suspects and characters to supplement the regulars.
Gaspard is not a magician but writes as knowledgeably as if he were, and the magic always plays a part in the plot. He follows the magician’s code of never revealing how the tricks are done, and describes them so well it’s almost like watching a great magician at work. The book titles are the names of magic tricks. In real life, he’s been involved in film-making as both writer and director and, since the introduction of ‘Harry Lime’, this has become a strong strand in the plots too, with lots of references to and jokes about classic movies.
The plotting and investigation elements of the book are very much like the traditional Golden Age mysteries – a crime, a collection of suspects, clues, red herrings etc. But the writing and characterisation bring them bang up to date so that they never read like pastiches. A truly welcome break from the modern diet of bleakness and misery, these are proper mysteries – not one of which I’ve been able to solve before Eli! And I hope to get the opportunity to fail to solve many more in the future. Highly recommended – this could easily be read as a standalone, but I’d recommend reading in order, starting with The Ambitious Card, to get the full benefit of the regular characters.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Henery Press.