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The Zig Zag Girl: The Brighton Mysteries 1 Paperback – 8 September 2015
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A colourful crowd of ventriloquists and sword-swallowers, a world lovingly re-created in this original, lively and gripping work ― Independent
The historical detail is very well done . . . The Zig Zag Girl is an extremely well-written and well-researched novel ― Literary Review
- Publisher : Quercus; 1st edition (8 September 2015)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 178429196X
- ISBN-13 : 978-1784291969
- Dimensions : 13.2 x 2.6 x 19.7 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 201,416 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from Australia
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I was disappointed.
Having said all that I did not guess who the killer was so I kept on til the end
The Zig Zag Girl starts out a little gruesome. Two pieces of a woman’s body are found and then the third piece is delivered to DI Edgar Stephens at the Brighton Police Station. The way the body is presented reminds Edgar of a magic trick and he elicits the help of his friend, the famous magician Max Mephisto.
It’s 1950 and during the war, Edgar and Max had been part of a unit called the Magic Men. The Magic Men was basically a group of spies who used their stage skills to set up illusions which the British Army hoped would fool the Nazis into believing there were tanks and boats and army personnel in places there wasn’t.
I love this time period. It was such an interesting period of history where the war really was affecting everyone across the globe and so many men and women were obviously suffering PTSD. There’s so much potential for a writer and I thought Griffiths did a great job of utilising the PTSD of the characters without making it inappropriate in today's world.
The method the murderer used was original and I really enjoyed that aspect of the book, despite my squeamishness about it at times.
I did think the identity of the killer was pretty obvious early on but I couldn’t even be disappointed by this as Griffiths threw in a couple of other twists that I didn't see coming. In fact, I think the reader was meant to guess the killer and these other couple of reveals were the actual gasp-out-loud moments.
I always read the Ruth books for the characters more than the mystery plot, however. Happily, I fell instantly in love with Edgar. He was the perfect rumpled policeman, with quiet ways but obviously intelligent and solid and loyal to his friends and country. His almost naive and unassuming personality was a perfect contrast for the more world-weary and confident to the point of arrogant, Max.
As in the Ruth series, Griffiths introduces quite a few supporting characters. The other magic men, obviously, were used including the handsome Bill and his wife, Jean, the brash and annoying Tony, their commanding officer, Major Gormley, and the ageing and usually drunk Great Diablo (I’ve already cast Sir Ian McKellen as this character in my mind!).
I thought I might be disappointed by the lack of romance in this book. I love the romantic aspect of the Ruth books, after all. I thought The Zig Zag Girl was pretty much perfect with just the tiniest hint of romance Griffiths gave us though.
Accustomed as I am to Ruth’s saltmarsh, Griffith’s place setting was surprisingly just as impressive as Norfolk--this time, Brighton and surrounds. I also enjoyed the descriptive passages for the world of live variety shows. The acts mentioned throughout (including magic and comedy and dancing and acrobats) were colourful and fun but also sad, knowing that most of the performers would have needed to diversify significantly with the introduction of tv.
As usual, there’s something about Griffiths’ writing that draws me in to her books. I’m already invested in the fate of these characters.
Adding a 5 out of 5 rating to The Zig Zag Girl and immediately am off to buy book two
Post WWII England in 1950 is the setting. Detective Edgar Stephens is assigned to a horrific crime. A young woman's body is delivered to the station - in three pieces in three boxes. And Stephens can't help but be reminded of a magic trick - The Zig Zag Girl. Now, why would he be reminded of that? Well, Stephens was part of a covert team during the war that used tricks and deception to discombobulate the 'Jerrys".
Stephens has kept his distance from the unit in the years following the war. But this murder and his investigation inevitably reunite him with the Magic Men. Notably Max Mephisto - the inventor of the Zig Zag Girl trick.
What I absolutely love about Griffith's books are her characters. They're appealing, unusual and engaging. Each has a rich background and personality - I liked them immediately and look forward to seeing them again. Edgar and Max each have a voice in the Zig Zag Girl, so we get a view from each of their perspectives.
What I also liked was that the mystery has to be solved the 'old fashioned way' - without the use of cell phones, computer databases and modern technology. Instead we're along for the ride as Stephens and Mephisto follow the clues and connections, making their own deductions.
Griffiths uses misdirection, one of a magician's tricks, to keep the mystery going, sending the reader's suspicions in the wrong direction. (But clever readers will suss it out) The setting is fascinating - the world of variety shows and magicians was fun and full of detail.
The Zig Zag Girl was a great introduction to a new set of characters - this reader will be looking for the second in this series. (But Ruth is still my favourite!)
And the inspiration for this new series? There truly was a group of camouflage experts in WWII called the Magic Gang. And Griffith's grandfather also was on the variety circuit as a comedian.
Top reviews from other countries
The Zig Zag Girl is the first book in the Stephens & Mephisto series and opens with the surprisingly gruesome discovery of a dismembered woman, a former assistant of Max Mephisto's who has been cut into pieces in a grotesque real-life recreation of the famous 'sawing a woman in half' trick familiar to anyone who has ever seen a traditional stage magic act. Edgar knows Max from the days when they were both part of a war-time intelligence unit known as The Magic Men, creating illusions and decoys to fool the enemy. Their war-time escapades ended in tragedy and they've been estranged since then, but they form an uneasy partnership when it becomes clear that other members of The Magic Men are being drawn into the killer's vicious cat-and-mouse game.
Although the crime plot of The Zig-Zag Girl is clever and engaging, the characters are the real strength of this book. Edgar and Max are fully fleshed-out, convincing characters with interesting back-stories and complex motivations, and while they are very different, this isn't a stereotypical 'odd couple' pairing. The supporting characters are also vividly realised - I particularly enjoyed Edgar's mother, for whom Edgar is somehow simultaneously a disappointment for doing too well (he went to Oxford) and for not doing well enough (he's a policeman), and the elderly conjuror Diablo, who gives Max a depressing glimpse of what his own future might be like if variety continues to lose audiences to straight theatre - a new play called The Mousetrap seems to be a bigger draw than comedians and magicians.
Brighton's seafront, boarding houses and theatres all lend a strong sense of location to the action, and the period atmosphere is spot-on too. The plot - like those of the Ruth Galloway series - is a little crazy and perhaps not for you if you insist on non-stop gritty realism, but I thought it was great fun. There's a real vibrancy to this book and it feels fresh and original. I'm looking forward to reading the next in the series.
The plotting is also excellent – as it should be, given that Griffiths is an experienced author of a best-selling murder mystery series. I quickly became caught up in the unfolding drama and flew through this book as the pages more or less turned themselves – always a sign that I am caught up in the world and its problems. But for me, Griffiths’ superpower is her characterisation. This book is mostly from the viewpoint of both Mephisto and Stephens, two very different people with a totally different world view. While I initially preferred Edgar, as the book wore on, I became increasingly intrigued by Max and what actually drives him.
The way both characters developed and expanded into complex, three-dimensional characters with occasional flashes of humour in amongst the serious business of tracking down a serial killer, worked very well. I have found myself thinking of this one since I finished reading and I’m delighted to discover that Himself has also bought the second book in the series – the man is a treasure! Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys engrossing, well plotted whodunits set in an enjoyably detailed historical seaside town.
The characterisations are awfully twee, very Midsomer Murders English, and in the main uninspiring. The plot isn't complex, it's endless, way overdone and filled with needlessly descriptive, angst-driven passages that this reader learned to flick through in search of something that actually drove the plot forward.
The identity of the dastardly criminal, the 'who' in the 'whodunnit', was flagged so clearly in the early chapters that it surely surprised nobody. And the wrapping up of all the loose ends was soooo cutey nice nice, happily ever after mush. We were even left reassured, repeatedly, that the simple sweet man whose wife had been brutally murdered a few weeks before was already on the mend and sure to find another loving wife soon.
This author won't feature in my reading lists again.
Stephens is assisted by an old friend, Max Mephisto, a magician, who regularly saws women into three as part of his act. While the two are very different characters, they share a past in a wartime military unit, dubbed the Magic Men. When other members of the unit are killed, their murders resembling various stage illusions performed by Max, everything points to unfinished business from the past.
The main characters are well drawn, and the relationship between Edgar and Max is the glue that holds the story together as they try to connect all the lines and identify the killer. Factor in the disagreements and animosities within the Magic Men unit and there are plenty of suspects.
Unfortunately they are being killed one by one.
The pace and atmosphere is warm, gentle and easy going, despite the brutality of the murders. The challenges arising as a new post war era gathers momentum are revealed through the decay in variety hall entertainment and the struggles some performers have in adapting to the changes. But the show must go on, even if there’s a killer ready to pounce.
With a couple of surprises and an exciting climax, the story is neatly wrapped up, ready for a sequel.