Series: Stephens & Mephisto Mystery #3
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 5, 2017
Genres: Historical Mystery
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Elizabeth II's coronation is looming, but the murder of their wartime commander, Colonel Cartwright, spoils the happy mood for DI Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto. A playbill featuring another deceased comrade is found in Colonel Cartwright's possession, and a playing card, the ace of hearts: the blood card. The wartime connection and the suggestion of magic are enough for him to put Stephens and Mephisto on the case.
Edgar's investigation into the death of Brighton fortune-teller Madame Zabini is put on hold. Max is busy rehearsing for a spectacular Coronation Day variety show - and his television debut - so it's Edgar who is sent to New York, a land of plenty worlds away from still-rationed England. He's on the trail of a small-town mesmerist who may provide the key, but someone else silences him first. It's Sergeant Emma Holmes who finds the clue, buried in the files of the Zabini case, that leads them to an anarchist group intent on providing an explosive finale to Coronation Day.
Now it's up to Edgar, Max and Emma to foil the plot, and find out who it is who's been dealing the cards . . .
The Blood Card is the third in the series featuring DI Edgar Stephens and the magician Max Mephisto. This is a wonderful historical thriller located in the world of theatre variety shows and the gypsy community. It is the third in the series but the first I have read and it works very well as a standalone. It is set in the period leading to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. In London, Max is performing at the Theatre Royal, while in Brighton, Edgar is looking into the death of Madame Zabini, a fortune teller on the pier. Max and Edgar are summoned by General Petre who takes them to the murder scene of their old wartime commander, Colonel Peter Cartwright. There is a playing card left with the body, the Ace of Hearts, known in the theatrical community as the blood card. Petre asks them to look into the murder discreetly. Max and Edgar are horrified at what seems like a senseless murder and determine to get to the bottom of the matter. Nothing turns out to be as it seems, and as befits a novel that involves magicians, there are plenty of misdirections.
Edgar takes a quick trip to New York, to talk to William Hitchcock, a mesmerist with possible connections to Cartwright. Turns out Hitchcock is dead, killed just the day before Edgar arrived. It was interesting to see the difference in post-war New York versus Britain. Britain is still under rationing, while in New York, everything seems plentiful. Meanwhile, Max is bemoaning the demise of the world of variety theatre and is less than impressed with the incoming world of television. At the same time, he is the highlight of a tv show that will be shown live on the evening after the coronation.
Of course, it turns out that both murders are connected and a group of anarchists may or may not be invovled. The investigation brings danger and a thrilling finale in London. I was surprised by who the killer was.
The Blood Card is an atmospheric, entertaining, and engaging mystery. There are several twists and plenty of suspense. The characters are colorful and well developed. As always, Griffiths captures the era well. The introduction to the world of television is especially interesting and i liked how Griffiths showed it affecting day to day life, including its impact on Edgar’s mother.