The Blood Card (Stephens and Mephisto 3) by Elly Griffiths

Long live the Queen!

😀 😀 😀 😀

the-blood-cardIt’s 1953, and Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is investigating the death of a fortune-teller who drowned off the Brighton pier. It looks like an accident, but the possibilities of suicide and murder have to be ruled out. However, Edgar’s investigation is interrupted when he is called to London by General Petre to look into the mysterious death of Colonel Cartwright, who used to be one of Edgar’s superior officers during the war. General Petre has called on Max Mephisto to help too, since Max also worked with Colonel Cartwright, and there are aspects of the murder that suggest it may have something to do with the Magic Men – the outfit Max and Edgar were involved in, which used illusion to fool the Germans into thinking the Allies had greater defences than they actually did. It soon transpires that Colonel Cartwright was afraid that a plan was afoot to disrupt the coronation of the new young Queen, Elizabeth II, so Edgar and Max are under pressure to solve the case before that event takes place in a couple of weeks time.

I’ve enjoyed the previous books in this new series of Elly Griffiths’ a great deal, so had high hopes for this one. The Brighton setting just after the end of WW2 is brilliantly evoked, especially the rather seedy tone of the theatres and musical halls, and the performers who live a nomadic life around the various seaside towns of England, with, if they’re lucky, an occasional booking amidst the bright lights of London’s West End. Max is currently performing at the Theatre Royal in London, and has been tempted somewhat against his better judgement to appear on the new-fangled television – a medium he fears will lead to the final death of the already fading variety theatre. The TV show is scheduled to be shown on the evening of the Queen’s coronation.

Edgar meantime is still trying to pin Ruby down to setting a date for their wedding, but Ruby is not ready to give up her aspirations to become as great a stage magician as her father, Max. And Edgar’s colleague, Emma, is still harbouring feelings of unrequited love for him. Which is all a little annoying, since this book is set two years after the last one, and yet none of these characters seem to have moved on emotionally from how they were left then. Shades of the tedious Ruth/Nelson saga from Griffiths’ other series beginning to creep in, I fear. I wish Griffiths could either leave the romance out of her books, or else move it along – she seems to stick her characters into a situation and then leave them there forever. Hopefully she’ll resolve this triangle in the next book, or I’m afraid it will become as dull as poor old Ruth’s never-ending non-love story.

The plot of this one takes Edgar to America, which provides quite a bit of humour as Edgar tries to understand a society that feels very foreign to him. The picture Griffiths paints of America at that time feels very much based on movies of the period – it doesn’t give quite the same aura of authenticity as the Brighton scenes. But it adds an extra element of interest by expanding out from the rather restricted setting of an English seaside town.

Elly Griffiths Photo: Jerry Bauer
Elly Griffiths
Photo: Jerry Bauer

For me, the plot of this one is too convoluted and loses credibility before it reaches the end. While it’s very well written and has a great dramatic ending, my disbelief was stretched well past breaking point before it got there. However, the recurring characters remain as enjoyable as ever, and as usual there are plenty of quirky new ones introduced to keep the interest level up. I also enjoyed the glimpse of the early days of television, when it was all still experimental and, of course, broadcast live, giving it plenty of potential for unexpected drama.

Overall, this isn’t my favourite of the series, but it’s still a good outing for Edgar, Max and the other recurring characters, and I look forward to seeing where they go next – with my fingers firmly crossed that they don’t remain stuck in their emotional ruts for too much longer.

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

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36 thoughts on “The Blood Card (Stephens and Mephisto 3) by Elly Griffiths

  1. I have to admit, FictionFan, that I’m a fan of this series. So I’ll probably forgive the convolution and so on. Usually, I notice – and very much mind – those things. But as you say, the characters are great, and the premise is interesting. I give Griffiths credit for having been able to create two very different, but excellent, series.

    • I like this series very much too, and even if this one isn’t my favourite, it’s still very good. I think she brings the world of the variety theatre to life at that particular period when it was just beginning to die. Personally I prefer these to the Ruth Galloway books, but I agree, there have been some great books in both series.

  2. I haven’t read any of the books in this series, but it sounds like a jolly enough jape. On another note, imagine my delight when Anthony Horowitz popped up on the radio (Classic FM) yesterday afternoon. What a delightful chap. Peeling carrots has never been so marvellous 🙂

  3. I was looking forward to this one, but I do get tired of people (in real life as well as fiction!) who can’t get, am
    nd keep, a grip on their private life. so we’ll see……

  4. Haven’t read anything from this author, but perhaps I should. I imagine she’s just not comfortable writing romance and doesn’t particularly know where to take her characters. Today’s readers are so savvy, and they’d instinctively know at once that these people have been stuck in a two-year emotional limbo. Perhaps that’s why old-time books (I’m thinking of Sherlock Holmes) didn’t bother at all with romance and concentrated solely on plot. I wonder if that would work today??

    • It’s a good question! I reckon that might well be why I like my detectives to be happily married – that way there’s a good reason for them not to be always falling in and out of love. But if they are going to have romance, I really do prefer it to progress in some way – like in the Dalziel and Pascoe books, where Pascoe gradually falls in love, gets married, has a child etc…

  5. Oh I’m glad you gave this one four stars too – like you I still found much to enjoy but it wasn’t quite as convincing in terms of outcome as the previous two – I quite enjoyed the trip to America though!

    • I enjoyed the American bit too, and I really like all the main characters, which made up more or less for the less convincing plot. Hopefully poor old Emma will stop pining for Edgar soon, though – she could get together with Ruth and start up an Unrequited Love Support Group… 😉

  6. I’ve been avoiding this series (too many books, not enough reading time) but I think you’ve got me on this one – love the idea of the old theatrical types and the beginning of television.

  7. I haven’t read Elly Griffiths in awhile– if I actually looked beyond my nightstand and onto a bookshelf, I’m sure I’d find a couple of hers waiting for me…

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