Fans of Elly Griffith’s wonderful Ruth Galloway Mysteries have eagerly anticipated this first of her new Magic Men Mysteries, and readers will be delighted with THE ZIG ZAG GIRL.
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Brighton in 1950 springs off the pages in all its sparkling and sometimes tawdry glory. DI Edgar Stephens faces a most unusual case: the head and legs of a young woman have been found in two separate black boxes in Left Luggage. Then her center midriff is delivered to Stephens at his police station. The killer is mimicking the famous magic trick where the body of a young magician’s assistant is supposedly cut into three pieces, a trick known as The Zig Zag Girl.

It brings into Edgar’s sphere his former mate, Max Mephisto, from a WWII group called the Magic Men, whose specialty was sleight of hand and camouflage for the Germans benefit, in one case a Highlands posting requiring them to simulate a huge warship. The trick had disastrous results, the brainchild of the magician Mephisto, who still performs and into whose world Stephens is soon introduced.

When the identity of the dead woman is established, followed by a second death built around another magician’s trick, the link to the Magic Men gives Stephens a pattern to follow, and soon he and Mephisto will be off to interview the remaining members of their team as the tricks–and the deaths–multiply. The tension rises as lives are at risk and soon it will be the two old friends who are at in danger–all amidst Mephisto trying to keep up his act from town to town.

Griffiths has done a grand job of illustrating the era’s variety shows and the life the performers led. And there are behind-the-scenes looks at some of the tricks. She shows the days of post-war policing, too, when there were no cell phones or computers to rely on or aid police investigations, and how the detecting must rely on personal visits, long car rides to interview people, and the detective’s reasoning and intuition.

The interesting side bit here is the personal story attached to the series; While Mephisto and the Magic Men are fictional creations, they are based on a real team of camouflage experts call the Magic Gang who served in Egypt during WWII and are credited with impressive illusions, including the supposed disappearance of the Suez Canal! Rich fodder for any writer, but there’s even more of a personal connection for Griffiths: the group was led by the famous magician Jasper Maskelyn, who appeared on villa on the variety show circuit with none other than Griffith’s own grandfather, Frederick Goodwin.

Stephens and Mephisto form a new alliance that will have readers clamoring for the next installment. Rumor to Auntie M has it that Griffiths is hard at work on a sequel, The Demon King, but keep that under your hat or a rabbit may appear!

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