Readers most often connect author Elly Griffiths with her award-winning Ruth Galloway series, one of Auntie M’s favorites. But last year she introduced the Magic Men Mysteries, and she brings 1951 Brighton to life in the second in that series with Smoke and Mirrors.
DI Edgar Stephens and his old friend from the service, magician Max Mephisto, find themselves together again when two children’s bodies are found in frozen snow, arranged in an arresting image straight out of the fairy tales they’d been enacting.
Max is in town for the Christmas season, starring in Aladdin, but Edgar has his own case to worry about. Annie and Mark are the two missing children whose bodies are subsequently found after being strangled. With a trail of candy near them, the scene is eerily reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel.
Edgar’s investigation reveals that Annie was a precocious, if somewhat dark-natured, child, who wrote seemingly gruesome plays that her circle of friends acted out in the garage-stage of Brian Baxter, a retired man who immediately becomes a suspect. Max was her closest friend and confident, despite their age difference. Edgar will interview the children’s teachers and friends and their families to try to figure out why these two friends, who attended different schools, had to die.
Max has his own troubles. His cast is less than award-worthy, while his relationship with his landlady is heating up. Then, too, there are historical cases that bring some of his colleagues to Edgar’s attention. Unresolved between the two friends is the relationship of Ruby, Max’s daughter, who Edgar thinks is probably his girlfriend, but he hesitates to use that term. It’s a confusing and complex time in the city of the brightly lit pier.
Once again, Edgar will look to Max to sort his thoughts on the case and help him find the trail that leads to a murderer. Griffiths brings the chill of Brighton in December to life, as well as the backstage antics of the theatre, in a complex tale that frustrates Edgar the more he investigates. A delightful and solid entry in the series.