Christmas, 1953, and Max Mephisto is headlining at the Brighton Hippodrome. Well, he’s sharing the headline due to his new double act with his daughter Ruby, called, um… Magician and Daughter. Catchy name… They are pulling in rave reviews, but there is also a lot of interest in one of the support acts, namely a series of tableaux of motionless women re-creating scenes from history. Oh, and they’re naked. Better not forget that part.
But when a flower seller is found murdered, posed as if from one of the tableaux, DI Edgar Stephens, old comrade of Max and fiancé to Ruby, finds himself up against a murderer who is perfectly happy to recreate their work over and over again.
This is the fourth Stephens and Mephisto mystery following The Zig-Zag Girl, Smoke and Mirrors and The Blood Card, and I do enjoy the recreating of the atmosphere of the theatre of the early 1950’s, with little touches like Max’s unhappiness with Tommy Cooper bringing magic into disrepute helping to bring the background to life.
There are basically three strands to the tale – the theatre, the investigation into the murder and the personal lives of the detectives. The theatre is outstanding. The investigation is perfectly enticing, although the villain (who I found very guessable) veers a little too close to the “I’m a loony” motive for my tastes. But the personal aspects I found a little wanting – oh, with the exception of one of the police officers, Bob. I enjoyed his story. I think the reader needs to have a good recall of the books that had gone before – I never really got a feel for why exactly Ruby and Edgar are engaged for example, as they seem to have little in common, and they rarely share any page time. Ditto why exactly Emma, another police officer, seems to be pining so much over Edgar. I know these parts have been covered in more detail in previous books, but as you may have spotted, I read a lot of books and have managed to forget various things. Fans of the series shouldn’t have this problem though.
So, Recommended for fans of the series. If you’re new to the series, then why not try The Zig-Zag Girl or Smoke and Mirrors – that one’s my favourite, I think.
Many thanks to Quercus for the review copy via NetGalley.