The Zig Zag Girl
Quercus / Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Pub Date : 16 Jul, 2015 (Paperback UK): / 15 September (Hardback US)
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When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, DI Edgar Stephens recalls a magic trick that he saw as a boy called the Zig Zag Girl…So begins this enjoyable post-war mystery centred around the world of magicians and English seaside Music Hall and Variety Theatre.
Edgar is a young man who has chosen the law as a career rather than returning to education after the war. In the war he’d been part of a secret unit called the Magic Men. Made up of a handful of magicians they were tasked with using the power of illusion to fool the German’s into thinking the coast of Scotland was better protected than it was. One such magician, Max Mephisto, was the inventor of the Zig Zag Girl illusion, that Edgar is reminded of when the body is found.
Edgar tracks down Max and asks for his help. Max is still a headline act, but is finding things are charging on the circuit and would rather not have anything to do with the grisly business. However, he changes his mind when he discovers the dead girl is an ex assistant .
When another gruesome death follows, once again staged to resemble a magic trick, Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies back in their army days and with the Magic Men. But who would want them dead and why?
I must admit Griffith’s work had passed me by up until now – she writes the successful forensic archaeologist, Ruth Galloway, thriller series – but this was fun to read, and I raced through it.
The novel, unlike the first girl, comes in four parts: The Build Up; Misdirection; Raising the Stakes; and The Reveal. Each is told by our dual narrators Edgar and Max, giving us a different take on both events and the priorities in both men’s’ lives. It also acts as a brilliant means to inject lovely touches about 1950s Music Hall and Variety Theatre into the story, via Max, such as: mentions of the emergence of television and the growing power of comedians – even within magic: the appearance of Tommy Cooper in particular, the reputation of the Glasgow theatre scene and the Herald’s critics “He imagined that God would be a stern critic, worse even that the Glasgow Herald”; and the changing face of theatre with the opening of The Mousetrap.
The plot itself rattles along, though my only gripe would be that it did seem fairly obvious to me who the murderer was early on in proceedings, but I was interested enough in the characters and the manner of the storytelling for this fact not to spoil my enjoyment.
The description on Net Galley describes it as the first instalment of a compelling new series, so it looks like this will not be the last time Edgar and Max get an outing. Whilst my inclination would have been the keep this as a one-off, I’ve no doubt a second helping could tempt me to see where she takes the characters from here.
All in all Griffiths has conjured up a summer holiday treat. One for the beach, though perhaps not Brighton’s stony one.
Review copy provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (Quercus) / Netgalley