Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead
Narrator: Jake Ruddle
Series: Joseph Spector #1
Published by HighBridge on July 12, 2022
Source: Purchased
Genres: Historical Mystery
Length: 6 hrs 40 mins
Pages: 288
Format: Audiobook
Purchase at Bookshop.org or Audible
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three-half-stars

A magician-turned-sleuth in pre-war London solves three impossible crimes.

In 1930s London, celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees is discovered dead in his locked study, and there seems to be no way that a killer could have escaped unseen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by the confounding scene, the Scotland Yard detective on the case calls on retired stage-magician-turned-part-time-sleuth Joseph Spector. Who better to make sense of the impossible than one who traffics in illusions?

Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. As he and the Inspector interview the colorful cast of suspects among the psychiatrist's patients and household, they uncover no shortage of dark secrets—or motives for murder. When the investigation dovetails into that of an apparently impossible theft, the detectives consider the possibility that the two transgressions are related. And when a second murder occurs, this time in an impenetrable elevator, they realize that the crime wave will become even deadlier unless they can catch the culprit soon.

It’s no surprise Death and the Conjuror caught my eye. It’s set in London in 1936, the Golden Age as far as mysteries are concerned. It features a locked room mystery, something I’ve been reading a lot of lately, and our sleuth is a magician, which is a fun touch – after all, who would be a better person to solve the impossible?

A psychologist seeing three rather unique patients is found dead in his locked study. Inspector George Flint is in charge of the case, but he knows he needs help and calls his friend, magician Joseph Spector. There are a fair number of suspects each with his or her own secrets. Actually, there are all around a lot of characters involved – the dead man’s family and clients, the folks from the show Spector is helping put together, the cops obviously – and two mysteries, the murder and a stolen painting, taken from a locked chest in a locked room on the same night. It’s not surprising the whole thing gets a little convoluted.

I liked the 1930s feel, both in the setting and the feel of the book. The author was clearly going for a Golden Age vibe and it worked pretty well. The “impossible” crimes were put together well and the solutions were clever, even if more than a bit unlikely, but that’s part of the fun of a locked room mystery, isn’t it? If the solution was simple, we’d be disappointed.

About Tom Mead

Tom Mead is a Midlands-based author. He has previously written for Ellery Queen’s Mystery MagazineAlfred Hitchcock Mystery MagazineLitro OnlineFlash: The International Short-Short Story MagazineLighthouseMystery Scene and Mystery Weekly (amongst various others). He is a great admirer of golden age authors of the locked-room mystery subgenre (John Dickson Carr, Clayton Rawson, Helen McCloy, Christianna Brand et al) and has written many stories in tribute to these masters. His story “Heatwave” was selected for inclusion in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021 (ed. Lee Child) and his debut novel Death and the Conjuror is coming soon from Mysterious Press.

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