The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

Zig ZagBrighton, 1950, and the world is still recovering from the end of the war. DI Edgar Stephens, during the war, was seconded to a specialist unit designed to misdirect the enemy. Mostly consisting of stage magicians, they were called the Magic Men. The group was split apart by a tragedy, but he finds himself seeking them out once more when the body of a young girl is found in three separate ornate boxes. Boxes that bring to mind the classic stage trick, that of the Zig Zag Girl.

Edgar, assisted by Max Mephisto, another member of the Magic Men, join forces to investigate, but soon another body is found, also in the style of a stage illusion. It seems that there is a murderous magician on the loose – but there may be more to it than that. Something is linking the deaths to the Magic Men and it seems that both Edgar and Max may be in the killer’s sights…

I’ve been meaning to read something by Elly Griffiths for a while now as I’ve heard good things about her Ruth Galloway series. When this became available for review, I thought I’d give it a try as it’s her first (I think) non-series book, and I hate to join a series half-way through. In addition, the theme of magic drew me in as well, as I absolutely love stories about magicians. The Clayton Rawson Merlini mysteries, for example, are some of my favourite tales, especially the short stories. So I couldn’t resist.

It’s an entertaining read, an engrossing mystery, although it’s more of a thriller than a classical whodunit. The killer remains one step ahead of our heroes throughout until the finale and it’s more by the culmination of their plans that they are caught, rather than any particular deductions from our heroes.

Our heroes are an interesting pair – as, in fact, are most of the characters herein. The author takes time to make them all distinctive individuals, no matter how small their parts seem to be. The overarching story weaving the past with the present is a satisfying one and there is clear potential for a series here.

Where it falls down for me – and I think this is a personal thing – is that the magical element doesn’t extend to the mystery. I was expecting some devastating sleight of hand with the finale which never really occurs. Sure, I imagine that most readers won’t spot the killer (although more experienced armchair sleuths will probably narrow it down to two suspects pretty quickly. But having read Rawson and The Prestige, I was hoping for a little more Ta-Da! with the reveal/overall plot. Although there is a good surprise after everything is resolved.

So, well worth a look, and I’ll certainly be checking out Elly Griffith’s usual series. Recommended.


  1. As a fan of magic and mysteries involving sleight of hand, as in the books of Carr and Rawson, like you I would want that aspect to be really embedded to be truly satisfying – so it’s a shame that is missing at the finale (it’s a common failing in books that try this I find), though this sounds very appealing otherwise – thanks chum.


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