Series: Stephens & Mephisto Mystery #2
Published by Blackstone Audio on October 18, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Historical Mystery
Length: 7 hrs 37 mins
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It’s Christmastime in Brighton, and the city is abuzz about a local production of Aladdin, starring the marvelous Max Mephisto. But the holiday cheer is lost on DI Edgar Stephens. He’s investigating the murder of two children, Annie and Mark, who were strangled to death in the woods, abandoned alongside a trail of candy—a horrifying scene eerily reminiscent of Hansel and Gretel.
Edgar has plenty of leads to investigate. Annie, a surprisingly dark child, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms' fairy tales. Does the key to the case lie in her unfinished final script? Or does the macabre staging of Annie and Mark’s deaths point to the theater and the capricious cast of characters performing in Aladdin? Once again Edgar enlists Max's help in penetrating the shadowy world of the theater. But is this all just classic misdirection?
Smoke and Mirrors, the second book in Elly Griffiths series featuring DI Stephens, and actor/magician Max Mephisto, is set in Brighton about a year after the events in the Zig Zag Girl, during the winter of 1951. Max and the Great Diablo are performing in a pantomime in town. These type of pantomimes seem to be a very British thing. It’s a theater play that involves music, topical jokes, and slapstick comedy, and in this case magic, and is based on a fairy tale or nursery story. They are usually produced around Christmas, I’m not sure why.
When two young children go missing, and are later found dead in a snowbank surrounded by candies, DI Edgar Stephens, and his officers, Emma Holmes and Bob Willis, are tasked to investigate. With a frightened community demanding that the killer be found, and little evidence to go on, Stephens turns to his old friend Max for information after drawing a possible link to the theatrical scene.
Max’s part this time around is smaller. He does some introductions and talks things over with Edgar, but I wish he was more Max’s partner than Emma and Bob. Emma and Bob are solid characters though, and I liked learning more about them, particularly Emma’s experience as a female officer during the time period. It does make more sense for Edgar to have other cops working with him. That was actually one of my complaints from the first one, but now that the author changed it, I’m a bit disappointed. Funny how that happens.
The mystery in Smoke and Mirrors is well crafted, and interesting. Griffiths plays up the darker themes of Grimm’s fairytales to great effect, and we all know I love a good fairytale. She skillfully injects red herrings to keep you guessing. The whodunnit definitely surprised me.
One of the strengths of this series is its sense of time and place. The author wonderfully evokes the social climate of post-war England, and the ambiance of Brighton.