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

TBR Thursday 66…

Episode 66


The TBR remains at 151. The good news – it hasn’t gone up. The bad news – it hasn’t gone down! Or maybe that’s the good news…

Here are a few that should make it out of the pile soon. All crime this week and all from NetGalley, in a bid to catch up with my reviewing backlog…



smoke and mirrorsI loved The Zig Zag Girl, the first in Elly Griffiths’ new Stephens and Mephisto series, so I’ve been waiting eagerly for this second one, though my heart sank a little when I saw that we’re back on the bandwagon of murdered children…

The Blurb says Brighton, winter 1951. Pantomime season is in full swing on the pier with Max Mephisto starring in Aladdin, but Max’s headlines have been stolen by the disappearance ­­of two local children. When they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it’s not long before the press nickname them ‘Hansel and Gretel’. DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The girl, Annie, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms’ fairy tales. Does the clue lie in Annie’s unfinished – and rather disturbing – last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?

Once again Edgar enlists Max’s help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But is this all just classic misdirection?”

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first one missingI loved Tammy Cohen’s Dying for Christmas so I was delighted to get a copy of this, though my heart sank a little when I saw that we’re back on the bandwagon of murdered children…!

The Blurb says There are three things no-one can prepare you for when your daughter is murdered:

– You are haunted by her memory day and night

– Your friends and family fear you are going mad

– Only in a group with mothers of other victims can you find real comfort.

Welcome to the club no one wants to join.

* * * * *

the dungeon houseI’ve enjoyed a couple of the books of classic crime stories that Martin Edwards has edited, but this will be the first time I’ve read one of his own novels. And it looks like the youngest victim is 16, so we’re heading in the right direction…

The Blurb says The magnificent Dungeon House and gardens overlook Cumbria’s remote western coast with its mix of beaches, dunes, and fells, Roman ruins, and nuclear plant. Twenty years ago the wealthy Whiteleys called it home. But not a happy one. Malcolm Whiteley had begun to disintegrate under financial and emotional pressures. He suspected various men in their social circle of being his wife’s lover. After a disastrous party for the neighbours, Lysette told Malcolm their marriage was over. Sadly an old Winchester rifle he had been hiding was at hand….
Fast forward to today. Hannah Scarlett’s cold case team is looking into the three-year-old disappearance of Lily Elstone whose father Gray had been Malcolm’s accountant. The investigation coincides with yet another disappearance of a teenage girl: Shona Whiteley, daughter of Malcolm’s nephew Nigel, who now lives in the Dungeon House despite its tragic history. As Hannah’s team digs down into the past, doubts arise about what really happened the night Malcolm killed his wife and 16-year-old daughter Amber, then himself.
Most of the people once close to the Whiteleys still live nearby. And one Joanna Footit, and her secrets, now returns from London. While Hannah leads the complex police inquiries, it is her lover, historian Daniel Kind, who supplies Hannah with the lead that unlocks the whole. Does it come too late?

* * * * *

broken promiseI’ve never read anything by Linwood Barclay – a major omission, I feel. And while there is one dead baby, I’m seriously hoping the other one gets to live!! I’m on tenterhooks!!

The Blurb saysThe morning it all started, newspaper reporter David Harwood had plenty to worry about. A single parent with no job, forced to return with his young son to the small town of Promise Falls to live with his parents, the future wasn’t looking too rosy. So when his mother asked him to look in on his cousin Marla, who was still not quite right after losing her baby, it was almost a relief to put the disaster his own life had become to one side.

The relief wouldn’t last long. When he gets to Marla’s house he’s disturbed to find a smear of blood on the front door. He’s even more disturbed to find Marla nursing a baby, a baby she claims was delivered to her ‘by an angel.’ And when, soon after, a woman’s body is discovered across town, stabbed to death, with her own baby missing, it looks as if Marla has done something truly terrible.

But while the evidence seems overwhelming, David just can’t believe that his cousin is a murderer. In which case, who did kill Rosemary Gaynor? And why did they then take her baby and give it to Marla? With the police convinced they have an open and shut case, it’s up to David to find out what really happened, but he soon discovers that the truth could be even more disturbing…” 

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?