Smoke and Mirrors (Stephens and Mephisto 2) by Elly Griffiths

He’s behind you…!!

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

smoke and mirrorsIn the midst of heavy snowfall in the winter of 1951 in Brighton, two young children are missing. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and his team are desperately searching but as time passes and temperatures plummet below zero, hope is beginning to fade. And Edgar’s worst fears are realised when the children are found dead on Devil’s Dyke, with sweets strewn in the snow around them. Annie and Mark had been best friends for years, with Annie as the leader and Mark a willing follower. The children had been involved in writing their own plays – chilling little twisted versions of fairytales, and the scene of the murder looks almost like something out of a fairytale too. Meantime Edgar’s friend, magician Max Mephisto, is starring in the Christmas pantomime at the Palace Pier Theatre as Uncle Abanazar in another fairytale, Aladdin. Throw in a previous murder in 1912 during rehearsals for Babes in the Wood, and Edgar has to wonder if all these things can really be coincidence…

Loved this one! Yes, even despite the dead children motif. The big difference is that it’s told in a more traditional way – in third person from the perspective of Edgar or occasionally one of his team, instead of in first person from inside the head of a grief-stricken parent. This removes the reader to a safer distance where s/he can sympathise rather than wallow or be drowned, and where the mystery takes priority over the misery. It’s also told in the past tense so has none of the clumsiness that sometimes afflicts Griffiths’ writing in her Ruth Galloway series. In fact, she writes so well in past tense I wish she’d change to it for the Ruth books too.

Elly Griffiths
Elly Griffiths

If you call your book Smoke and Mirrors, your readers can expect a bit of misdirection and Griffiths provides it in spades. The clues are there but they are so cunningly concealed beneath an entire shoal of red herrings that this reader didn’t get even close to the solution, despite having suspected pretty much everyone who appeared at one point or another. But I didn’t feel the answer came out of nowhere – at the end, Griffiths shows us Edgar’s thought processes as he finally works it all out and it all feels plausible and credible (unlike some of the theories yours truly had come up with along the way) and, looking back, it’s fair-play. And the red herrings are all neatly cleaned up too – no leaving a mess of untidy loose ends hanging around. (Oops! The idea of herrings with loose ends is a little yucky – so sorry!)

The Brighton setting and sense of period in this series is pretty much perfect. Griffiths even gives an authentic feel for the way people talked back then, particularly in books, without it ever sounding pastiched. (Practically zero swearing and not a single f-word – amazing! And yet the world is still turning…) The only thing that is a tiny bit anachronistic is Edgar’s attitude to things like women and gay men – he seems a bit too politically correct for the era. But that does make him more likeable, and we get to see more realistic attitudes from some of the other characters so that the overall picture of this time-period still feels genuine. There’s a female sergeant on Edgar’s team now, Emma Holmes, and she’s a good addition – also likeable, and shown as competent and intelligent without becoming some kind of feminist superwoman.

Stanley Baxter - best ever pantomime dame!
Stanley Baxter – best ever pantomime dame!

I love all the stuff about Max and the theatre and in this one all the panto scenes were done brilliantly, with a good deal of warmth and humour coming into the book through both the on- and off-stage antics of the cast. Who could possibly not love a book where one of the characters is called The Great Diablo? Or where poor Edgar has to interview someone who is halfway through the process of transforming from middle-aged man to glamorous Pantomime Dame complete with eyelashes and camp jokes? I love traditional panto with all the cross-gender stuff and mildly risqué humour that works at different levels for children and adults, and I thought Griffiths captured it all perfectly. In fact, I’m kinda hoping she takes up writing pantomime scripts as a sideline! I really want to know more about Handy Andy from Tonypandy…

Great stuff, that shows that the more traditional style of detective fiction can still provide strong stories, good characters, and baffling mysteries while being truly entertaining. A must-read series for me already after only two books, so I’m delighted that the way the recurring characters are left at the end leaves plenty of room for more to come…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

47 thoughts on “Smoke and Mirrors (Stephens and Mephisto 2) by Elly Griffiths

    • I wasn’t sure, but was delighted to see a second and this one definitely leaves it wide open for a third… I hope so, since I love this more tradtional style of crime novel!

  1. I keep hearing such great things about this one, FictionFan. And I am an Elly Griffiths fan. Among many other things, I give her credit for going out in a new direction like this. And it all really seems to be taking off, too. I think this one may have to move from the ‘regular’ TBR list to the ‘Read this one!!’ TBR list…

    • I think this has been a great new direction for her. I know she has a big following for the Ruth books, including me in the past, but I really think she’s gone about as far as she can credibly go with them, so I’m delighted that she’s picked a police officer as her major character in this series. I don’t often say this, but you really should read this one!! I think you’ll love it…

    • Yes, it put me in the mood for panto – must check what’s on at the King’s! I do genuinely think you’d enjoy these ones – much more your style of crime novel than most of the twaddle that’s being dished up at the moment…

  2. Haven’t read this one, FF, but it sounds delightful. I so agree — third person puts a bit of necessary distance when the subject is dead children. And no f-words?? Even better! Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Love these! Yes, it’s one of the reasons I’m so set against first person from the perspective of the victim or victim’s family. Third person makes the whole thing work better. And what a pleasure to read a whole book with no swearing – and not a cosy, either. If you ever get time to read these, I think you’ll enjoy them… 🙂

  3. As if the review wasn’t interesting enough you go chuck in Stanley Baxter as an extra. I saw him in panto as a kid – think it was Citizens Theatre in Glasgow – and he was as you say a memorable panto dame!

    • I’m guessing it might have been at the King’s Theatre in Glasgow – for many years he appeared there every second year and in Edinburgh on the other years. Rikki Fulton, another great dame, did the opposite way round. The glory days of panto! It was never the same after those two retired. This book brought back lots of memories – good ones!

  4. Well at least the children had sweets around when they died. Why do you suppose they’d eat sweets in the snow? I do hope they were cherry sweets.

    Emma Holmes is an awesome name, I must admit. *writes it down*

    Handy Andy from Tonypandy! *laughs* That sounds awesome.

    • Of course they’d eat sweets in the snow! There is no kind of weather that isn’t improved by sweet-eating! Brighton rock – yummy! Basically a big stick of boiled sugar, mint-flavoured, with the word Brighton running all the way through – mmm!! Not to be confused with Edinburgh rock…

      *shakes head despairingly* Don’t tell me you’re falling in love with yet another girl! You’re incorrigible, you are!

      *laughs* Do you get panto out there in the colonies?

      • Well that’s true enough, I suppose. Is that like rock candy? I’m guessing maybe so. So, what’s Edinburgh rock? Wad what color is it?

        Of course not! But it could make for an awesome character. I got this vision of an uppity person, the sudden.

        No! What’s Panto?

        • Hmm – googling it suggests no, it isn’t. Google Blackpool rock images. Edinburgh rock is kinda softer and crumblier and comes in all different colours – it’s not as nice though…

          She is a bit uppity! But at least she doesn’t have pointy features…

          It’s a kids stage show, always put on in the run up to Christmas. Usually based on fairytales, Aladdin, Cinderella, Mother Goose etc. And the Dame is played by a man while the Principal Boy is played by a girl. Silly over-the-top costumes – jokes that work on different levels for the adults and the kids – a singalong half way through – the cast throw packets of sweets into the audience – and it all ends happily ever after. Bliss!

          • Oh that looks really tasty! Is it hard or chewy? Or both? Or neither?

            *laughs* Of course she has pointy features! Or maybe not. Maybe she has different features. I can’t know for sure…yet.

            And you like it? You know, you completely surprise me all the time. It does sound like something I’d like, for sure. I’d sit there and laugh at everything, probably.

            • It’s hard! Can’t be bitten – you have to suck it into submission first! And then your lips go all pink and you become manic through sugar overload, and then all your teeth fall out. It’s great!

              Yet? Don’t tell me you’re going to track ker down and meet her? Have you run out of American women to flirt with?!!

              *laughs* Do I? That’s because you think I’m too ancient to have fun! I reckon you’d love it – there’s something almost Punchy-ish about panto…

            • *laughs* Well, I’d suck on it. Since I love suckers. But I don’t like the part about the teeth falling out. Maybe if one was to wear a mouthguard…

              Completely! I’ve gone through millions of them. Even the female beetles, would you believe.

              Not at all! It’s just…well, you should like Kung Fu Panda then. So that’s good. When we meet, I’ll make you watch it.

            • Or perhaps a set of dracula teeth…

              *shakes head despairingly* I suspected as much! Shocking flirt! Really we ought to keep you in a cage…

              *gulps* I’ll… er… look forward to that! And I’ll make you watch Star Trek Voyager! *cheers up*

            • I once had a pair of those you know!

              *laughing* With lots of guitars, potato soup, and all the Expendable movies. That’d be awesome.

              I’d watch it. You know, just got done playing the music in a wind band.

            • I bet they suited you!

              *laughs* OK, that sounds good! I’ll stick the cage in a corner of the room so I can hear you play guitar then…

              Oh, do you still play in a wind band? I’m glad – I always think it would be a shame if you drifted away from the clarinet completely. You should do a vid of the Star Trek theme!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

            • I might play Aqualung, you should be warned. I’ve been working on that recently.

              I sorta do-ish. I need to get back for the Christmas concert, but I can’t find the time. I will never give up clarinet, promise. Which theme, though? I started having thinks about it, but there’s so many themes!

            • I managed 15 seconds of that – right up to the line ‘snot running down his nose’ – true poetry! Bet that moved the stars to pity! Unfortunately I may have to be out of the country when that vid comes out – somewhere with no internet access… *chuckles*

              I’m glad you promised! *smiles wider than Woola* Yeah, time is a problem, but you need to prioritise! Music comes first! *glares like a schoolmarm* Are there really? See, I just don’t listen properly. Well it would have to include the main themes from TNG and Voyager…

            • You didn’t know that song? Goodness. I must have speaks with WOB at once. The chap singing is…Scottish, you know. It’s a rather good song. Great guitar solo, too!

              TNG has some of the best themes ever. But the original ST has some sort of theme that is very popular, I’ve heard. I’m working on a Star Wars suite, you’d hate to know.

            • Don’t you encourage WOB to make me listen to such stuff – and don’t dare blame Scotland for it! On the upside, at least your version won’t have the lyrics. Are you going electric with it? *fears* I wonder if you’ll be able to win me over…

              Yes. I think the original theme is the best known – but I thought they were all kind of variations on that. I really must pay more attention! Oh, a Star Wars suite should be great! So long as you’re not planning to wear your hair like Princess Leia… *shudders*

              Tell me, how did Nick manage to get those overhead shots in the Mars one? I have this vision of him dangling from the ceiling…

            • Jethro Tull is amazing! I do bet WOB knows and loves it. *laughs* Nah, I’m a classical/pop guitarist. What’s cool about it, I think, is that I can play it on the nylons. #cool

              *laughing* You would think that, you bad thing! Of course I’d never wear hair like that silly princess. Good themes. John Williams did an awesome job.

              He actually held the camera up that high. I think his arms hurt real bad at the end.

            • Uh-huh! I shall ask but generally if he loved something I would know it, having been forced into listening againast my will. He’ll know it for definite though. Phew! What a relief! Well, with no lyrics and no electricity I might… might, mind you… not have to leave the country after all…

              *laughs* I know – I’m hopeless! But I will undoubtedly recognise all the themes when I hear them – except for any relating to the new films, which I can’t bring myself to watch. And I can’t think what the Star Wars themes are at all…

              Good noodles! Has he put on a growth spurt? Has he turned into a thark? Perhaps his arms are like Ben Hur’s. Or were you sitting in a pit?? It worked great though…

    • Loved it – probably the best actual mystery I’ve read this year! And I loved all the stuff about the panto – brought back many happy memories. I do hope she continues with this series… soon! 🙂

  5. Smoke and Mirrors has been added to my list, thank you. I’ve never seen a pantomime, they’re not really done in Australia, although I believe anyone who was ever on Neighbours has appeared in English pantomimes.

    • Haha! Yes, I think I’ve even seen one or two of them myself! The book’s great – I hope you enjoy it! And all the theatre stuff nearly makes you feel like you’ve been to a panto yourself…

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