Death And The Conjuror (2022) by Tom Mead

1930s London, and famed psychiatrist Dr Anselm Rees is alone in his study. After telling his housekeeper to expect a visitor, a mysterious figure arrives, with his hat and scarf obscuring his face. After meeting with Rees, the visitor departs. And soon thereafter, Rees is found in his study with his throat cut.

With no one entering the house after the departure of the mysterious visitor, it would seem obvious that he was the murderer. Except that Rees’ housekeeper, someone with a habit of listening at doors, heard her employer in the study making a telephone call after the stranger left. And the fact that both the door and window to the study, the only entrances, were both locked from the inside. And suicide is out of the question, as there is no trace of a weapon.

The murderer seems to be utterly impossible. And the best person to explain the impossible is a magician. Enter Joseph Spector…

“Once upon a time, this would be the point in the narrative where a challenge is issued to the reader. […] These days such practices are antiquated and rather passé. But who am I to stand in the way of a reader’s fun?”

I’m in a bit of a bad mood today. I was supposed to go to the Bodies From The Library conference but thanks to a conflagration of events (including an actual conflagration) getting to London proved to be more trouble than it was worth. So it would take one hell of a book to impress me today.

This is one hell of a book.

Tom Mead is someone who I’ve had a bit of contact with on the Interwebs, someone who I’ve managed to convert to the way of the Flynn, so it was a massive amount of trepidation that I approached this book. What if I didn’t like it? If I was critical about it, would he start bad-mouthing Brian? Note, I don’t think he’s read The Grim Maiden yet, so he might start doing that anyway one day. Thankfully, this is something I don’t have to worry about. As I go through the year, I keep a mental list of titles that might end up being best book of the year. There were four books on it before today – The Red Death Murders, The Book Of Murder, The Botanist and The Chapel In The Woods. And now there are five.

This is the sort of homage to the Golden Age that I want to read. Because this book could have been written in the Golden Age – people who want to set books in that era should really take notes (apart from Dolores Gordon-Smith, she gets it). Every character in the tale is in the tale for a reason. They all contribute something to the plot with nobody being there merely as a distraction. There’s a complex but followable plan from the villain, with everything happening for a reason. The characters are all distinctive from the minute they appear on the page. The sleuthing team – Joseph Spector and Inspector Flint, a good copper who knows when he is out of his depth – work well together. The plot keeps moving forward, without huge chunks of water-treading dialogue, and nobody lies just for the sake of it. Oh yes, and it’s got clues in it! Proper clues! That makes a pleasant change from my recent reads.

I’m not going into the plot – I’ll not spoil that for you – but it’s the sort of book, even before Tom presents his beautifully written Challenge To The Reader, that had me thinking and theorising (almost completely incorrectly) as each chapter came and went.

You could describe this book as a homage to John Dickson Carr (note the similarity in set-up, and only in set-up, to The Hollow Man) and possibly to Clayton Rawson, but I’m going to go one step further. I don’t think this is hyperbole, but I think this book is on a par with the best of John Dickson Carr. This is how you write books set in the Golden Age – other homage and pastiche authors should take note. This is a magnificent book and deserves the widest audience possible.

Death And The Conjuror is released in hardback and ebook on 12th July 2022 by Head Of Zeus. Many thanks for the e-copy via NetGalley.

6 comments

  1. I will look at this on your recommendation ( by this ye shall be judged !) I hate writers that get their own modern ideas about common mores of another time and who use modes of speech from today in their effluvia,

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