‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is the 2nd novel in the Stephens and Mephisto series by Elly Griffiths. Once again the story is set in Brighton in the early 1950s. I enjoyed this novel more than the first in the series ‘The Zig Zag Girl’.
Annie was an exceptionally bright 12 year old who loved to write plays in the style of the gruesome Grimm’s fairy tales. Along with her best friend and assistant 11 year old Mark, she directed the younger children from the street to perform the plays. Then one afternoon, Annie and Mark went missing.
DI Edgar Stephens and his team, along with neighbours and soldiers spend 2 fruitless days, hampered by snow, searching for the children. Eventually their bodies are found surrounded by sweets, making Stephens think of Hansel and Gretel.
Meanwhile the annual pantomime is being performed in the pier theatre and magician Max Mephisto has a starring role.
Stephens is overwhelmed with suspects including a teacher who shows a bit too much interest in her students and an older single man who has converted his garage into a theatre for the children to use. Then there is a whole crew of actors, directors and writers attached to the pantomime, some of whom were around when a child actor was brutally murdered in 1912.
Throughout the story, Mephisto warns Stephens to beware of misdirection. Maybe the solution to the murder is much simpler than anyone imagines.
There are also developments in Edgar Stephens’ personal life. He is still seeing Max’s daughter Ruby. He’s not sure if she is his girlfriend or if she is quite the girl that he thought she was.
Bob Willis (plodding and unimaginative) is once again part of the investigation team and the newest recruit is Sergeant Emma Holmes. Bob, Emma and Edgar form an interesting trio both professionally and personally.
This novel has reignited my interest in this series and I now look forward to further additions. The next in the series is ‘The Blood Card‘.
Book published 2015