Elly Griffiths writes one of my favourite series - the Ruth Galloway mysteries. Having devoured the last one, I was resigned to a least another year 'til the next. And then....I discovered that she has started another series! The Zig Zag Girl is the first in the Magic Men Mysteries.
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.
Elly Griffiths popular Ruth Galloway series has been on my to-read list for sometime but I’ve been loathe to start a new series given my current reading commitments. I pounced then on the opportunity to read her first stand alone, The Zig Zag Girl.
When the head and legs of a young woman are discovered in two black cases at Brighton train station, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens doesn’t have to wait long to discover the whereabouts of her torso when a third box is delivered to him at work. Curiously the box is addressed using his military rank, Captain, and the state of the woman’s body reminds Edgar of a magician’s trick, known as the Zig Zag Girl, performed by an old army buddy, Max Mephisto. Assuming the coincidence is unlikely, especially when the girl is identified as Max’s pre-war stage assistant, Edgar tracks down Max, a popular theater magician and then the rest of the men he served with, a group known as the ‘Magic Men’ – recruited for a top secret special assignment during World War II. After another death, another gruesome magic trick gone awry, Edgar realises that the Magic Men are being targeted and he must race to unmask the killer before they perform their final deadly trick.
The Zig Zag Girl is set largely in Brighton, England during the 1950’s and Griffiths skilfully evokes the post war era and the shabbiness of the neglected seaside town. Griffiths is said to have drawn on her own family history – her grandfather was a music hall comedian and her mother grew up ‘backstage’ – to authentically recreate the variety theater scene of the time.
Edgar is a likeable character, a little reserved and weary but thoughtful and steadfast. Max is more flamboyant, befitting a magician, and the two make a good team. The world of the theater allows Griffiths to introduce some additional colourful characters, and the ‘Magic Men’ are a quirky lot too.
The mystery is well thought out, using several red herrings to distract the reader from identifying the murderer too quickly. A little humour and a touch of romance lighten the more gruesome criminal elements of the story, and the background of the Magic Men provides added interest.
A clever, entertaining mystery, I really enjoyed The Zig Zag Girl, I think I need to make room in my schedule for The Crossing Places sooner, rather than later.