- this edition published by Quercus (UK) 2017
- ISBN 978-1-78429-700-8
- 351 pages
- #4 in the Stephens & Mephisto Mystery series
- source: my local library
Winter, 1953. A young flower seller is found dead in her room at a Brighton boarding-house, posed with chilling perfection into a recreation of the death of Lady Jane Grey. This is a killer unlike any DI Edgar Stephens has encountered before.
Across the city at the Hippodrome theatre, Max Mephisto is top of the bill in a double act with his daughter Ruby. Tarnishing the experience, though, is one of the other acts: a seedy 'living tableaux' show where barely-dressed women strike poses from famous historical scenes. Is the resemblance to the murder scene pure coincidence, or is life imitating art?
When another death occurs - this time within the troupe itself - Max once again finds himself involved in one of Edgar's cases, and a threat that will come closer to home than anything before. What should be just a job is about to become personal.
When people ask me about the best way to tackle a book that is part of a series, I always tell them to start with the first book. Well, this time I didn't take my own advice and I think I paid the penalty.
One of the benefits of reading a series from the first book is that you meet the characters as they are introduced and read of the events in their lives, and then follow the minor plots as they develop. There were references to previous events in THE VANISHING BOX about which I had no clue and could only surmise what had happened. Similarly I was coming to the main characters cold and had little idea, apart from hints dropped in the book, about the connections between them. As the story progressed those omissions mattered less, but the end result was that it took me a while to warm to the main characters and to begin to enjoy the story.
I like the time frame of 1953. World War II is an event that connects the investigative duo of DCI Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto the magician, and this is the time of variety halls and boarding houses. The world has an old-fashioned feel about it, of a morality not quite the same as ours. Policewomen who actively participate in investigations of murder are new, and there is a feeling in the force that they need to be protected from gruesome sights and are best as providing comfort in distressing situations.
In the long run it was an entertaining read but for most of the time I had little idea who the murderer was, so the final explanation came as a bit of a surprise.
My rating: 4.4
About the author
WINNER OF THE 2016 CWA DAGGER IN THE LIBRARY. Elly Griffiths was born in London. She worked in publishing before becoming a full-time writer. Her bestselling series of Dr Ruth Galloway novels, featuring a forensic archaeologist, are set in Norfolk. The series has won the CWA Dagger in the Library, and has been shortlisted three times for the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. Her Stephens and Mephisto series is based in 1950s Brighton. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archaeologist, and their two children.