The Zig Zag Girl ~~ Elly Griffiths

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The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths
Brighton, 1950. A girl is found cut into three pieces. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is convinced the killer is mimicking a famous magic trick the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old war friend of Edgar's. They served in a special ops troop called the Magic Men that used stage tricks to confound the enemy. Max still performs, touring seaside towns with ventriloquists, sword-swallowers, and dancing girls. When Edgar asks for his help with the case, he tells him to identify the victim quickly; it takes a special sidekick to do the Zig Zag Girl words that haunt Max when he learns the dead girl is Ethel, one of his best assistants to date. Another death, another magic trick, and still no killer. But when Edgar receives a letter warning of another trick on the way --the Wolf Trap--he knows the Magic Men are in the killer's sights. Full Synopsis
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The Zig Zag Girl is the first book in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series by British author, Elly Griffiths. Brighton, England, 1950: the young woman had been sawn in three; the parts, contained in black wooden boxes fastened with brass clips, were discovered in the Left Luggage room of the railway station. Witness descriptions are vague, but several aspects of the case cause DI Edgar Stephens, lead investigator, to travel to Eastbourne to seek out Max Mephisto, magician.

Their association began in Inverness during the war, when they were part of a Secret Service team, the Magic Men, but a tragic event had seen the end of team, and their involvement . The resemblance to one of Max’s tricks, the Zig Zag Girl, is strong, but he cannot cast any light on the matter, even when he learns, to his shock, the identity of the victim. When Max’s engagements bring him to Brighton, another death staged as a magic trick leads him to team up with Edgar in an effort to find the killer.

In keeping with the magic trick theme, Griffiths cleverly divides her novel into four parts, aptly titled: The Build-Up, Misdirection, Raising the Stakes and The Reveal. She uses two narrators, Edgar and Max, to convey different parts of the story as well as to give different perspectives on events. The immediate post-war era ensures the absence of mobile phones, internet, DNA and even many personal vehicles; thus the detective work relies on heavily on legwork, personal visits and intelligent deduction.

Griffiths gives the reader characters that are real and flawed; some are vain and selfish; others distracted by misdirection and convinced by illusion. Her plot is clever and original and has a few twists that even the most astute reader may fail to anticipate. The atmosphere of post-war Britain is skilfully evoked with description, dialogue and the attitudes common at the time. This is an excellent murder mystery from the author of the Ruth Galloway crime novels, and fans will not be disappointed.
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