Reviewed by Jeanne
It’s December 1951 in Brighton, and the city is gearing up for the holidays. This year the pantomime will be Aladdin, featuring no less than magician extraordinaire Max Mephisto as the villain, a role Max embraces with something less than enthusiasm. It’s a step down in his career, but it seems that magic shows as entertainment are falling out of fashion in this post WW II era. At least he will be able to visit with his former comrade in arms, Edgar Stephens, who is now a police detective.
The reunion is overshadowed when DI Stephens is called to investigate the murders of two children whose bodies were found in the snow, surrounded by candy—a sort of real-life Hansel and Gretel. The girl, Annie, was fascinated by fairy stories and had written plays based on the Brothers Grimm—the dark versions, not the sanitized ones favored by modern audiences. When it appears there may be a link to an earlier murder connected to a theater, Stephens asks Max to use his theater connections to investigate.
This is the second entry in Griffith’s Magic Men Mystery series, and I found it much more satisfying than the The Zig Zag Girl; much time was spent a detailing characters’ backgrounds and their service which made character development lag somewhat. Since complicated yet believable characters are the main reason I read her Ruth Galloway Mysteries, I was a bit disappointed with the first book. Smoke and Mirrors, however, combines an intriguing plot with characters of depth and complexity. The supporting cast played more significant roles and became much more memorable. I especially liked Emma Holmes, a young woman who is trying to make a career as a police officer at a time when it is very much a man’s profession and women are expected aspire to marriage and children. Max and Edgar emerge as more fully realized characters for me this time around. As before, Griffith does a good job of capturing the feel of the era but she does it a bit more subtly this time around.
I’ll be looking forward to The Blood Card, due out this fall.