The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths
Published by Quercus
6th November 2014
When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar's. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate.
But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another 'trick', the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in the killer's sights...
Set in the days when the world of theatre was changing, The Zig-Zag Girl looks at the less glamorous side of the fading era of magic and of the growing world of comedy in the theatres around Britain. Primarily based in Brighton, the book centres around Edgar Stephens, a DI who during the Second World War was part of a unit known the Magic Men. Stephens has left the world of magic behind him, but when the body of a girl turns up in three separate boxes, he is reminded of a trick called the zig zag girl that was once performed by a member of the Magic Men, Max Mephisto. Edgar gets in touch with Max who is still performing, and the Magic Men are slowly reunited. However as things progress, their number starts to decline one by one and it is clear that they are all in danger. They all know how to perform and what each trick entails but someone somewhere is re-enacting these stunts with catastrophic consequences, and no one knows who will be lured to their death next.
What I really enjoyed about this book was its sense of atmosphere and era. You could envisage the changing world of the industry as you read through the story, of the clubs that no longer sparkled and gleamed, and of playing to the same tired old audiences time and again. I didn't work out who the killer was; I think Elly Griffiths worked her plot and characters so well that as the book moved along I didn't have time to question 'whodunnit' as I focused on what was going to happen next.