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Stephens and Mephisto

The Midnight Hour by Elly Griffiths

When Bill Billington is found dead in his home and it is discovered that he has been poisoned, his wife, Verity, is immediately suspected of his murder. Determined to find the real culprit herself, Verity employs the private detectives Emma Holmes and Sam Collins, pitting Emma against her own husband, one of the police officers involved in the case. With their friend, Max Mephisto currently filming a remake of Dracula with Bert Billington’s son, Seth, they hope that this will give them some inside information on the family, but is everyone telling the whole truth?

The sixth book in the Brighton Mysteries series takes us to 1965 and we are seeing more of the female characters as they come to the fore, investigating the suspicious death. In previous books, the main focus has been on Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto and while Max does have a prominent role in The Midnight Hour, Edgar is more of a background character. It was joyous to read the role reversals as Emma travelled around the country while Edgar stayed at home to look after the children!

As we see women becoming more independent in 1965, there is a stark contrast made to how women were treated in the theatrical world back in Bert Billington’s heyday, a theme that, sadly, has continued and can be seen in the emergence of the ‘Me Too’ movement. It definitely made you wonder how Billington had lived as long as he did!

I really like how this series is developing and Elly Griffiths paints a wonderful picture of 1960s Britain, even referencing the real-life Moors Murders case which adds to the authenticity. I hope that this continues through the years as I look forward to seeing how the 1970s treats the characters.

Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths

It has been ten years since the events in The Vanishing Box and things have certainly moved on! Edgar Stephens, now a superintendent, has finally got his act together and is married to his former DS, Emma Holmes, and is the father of three children. Edgar’s friend, Max Mephisto, has made the move to America where he is now a film star, married with children, while his daughter, Ruby, is now the star of her own television show, Ruby Magic.

Now something has brought them all back together in Brighton, stirring up memories of the past. Meanwhile, Edgar is investigating the disappearance of a local schoolgirl, Rhonda Miles, and there are concerns that there could be a connection to two other missing women. With the culprit seemingly close to home, will disaster be averted or will their reunion bring heartache?

For me, Elly Griffiths is one of those authors who automatically moves up your TBR list, no matter how many books you already have to read! Ever since attending a talk she did with William Shaw at Waterstones, I have been excited to see what had happened to Stephens and Mephisto, especially as there is such a gap in time between the setting of this book and its predecessor. I had so many questions at the start of the book, all of which were answered really quickly, leaving me to enjoy the latest installment of the Brighton Mysteries.

In Now You See Them, we see the characters move away from the theatre, the setting of much of the previous books. As a result, we see a lot more police work, with a new officer, Meg Connolly, being added to the team. I really liked Meg who, as a woman, is finding it frustrating that she is forbidden from doing the same tasks as the male officers. She has the potential to be a great character, and, although she is still young, I don’t think it will be too long before she is climbing up the promotion ladder. We also see a different side of Emma who, after years of bringing up her children, is desperate to get back to work. It will be interesting to see what will happen in the future as a result of her revelation at the end of the book.

There are several other events in the book placing it firmly in the 1960s. A well-known film star is in the area, scouting out locations, giving the local teenage girls the opportunity to get up-close. With this, and references to The Beatles and Top of the Pops, we see a time when teenagers were beginning to become more prominent in society. Perhaps, the most iconic event in the book, however, is the clash between the Mods and the Rockers which took place on Brighton beach in 1964. This provided a great backdrop to the crime, highlighting how difficult it was for Edgar and his team, as they battle to keep order whilst trying to find the missing women.

I really enjoyed meeting up with Stephens and Mephisto again and particularly loved how we see the women starting to want to follow their own career paths. I do hope that book 6 is in the pipeline as I can’t wait to see how Emma’s plans affect her life with Edgar!

With thanks to Quercus Books and Net Galley for my copy of Now You See Them, which can be pre-ordered now and will be published on 3rd October 2019.



The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Talgarth School teacher, Clare Cassidy, is an expert on the author R. M. Holland and teaches his short story, The Stranger, as part of a course every year. When the body of her friend and colleague, Ella, is found at her home, suspicions arise when a quote from Holland is found alongside her horrific injuries. For many years an avid diary writer, Clare commits her feelings about Ella to paper only to find that there is some strange writing in her journal, writing that is not hers…

As a huge fan of the Ruth Galloway and Stephens & Mephisto series by Elly Griffiths, I could not wait to read this new standalone novel. When you love an author so much, there is always some slight trepidation, however, as to whether something new will live up to your expectations. This is Elly Griffiths – of course it did!

Although many books have the story told by multiple characters, I enjoyed the way the author used this device to retell events from different perspectives. First, we have Clare, the main protagonist. As the book progresses, we see her becoming more and more unnerved as she realises how interested the killer appears to be in her. Then, there is her daughter, Georgie. With an older boyfriend and a hidden interest in creative writing, does she know more about the crime than she is letting on? Finally, there is the detective investigating the case, D. S. Harbinder Kaur. An ex-Talgarth pupil herself, she is a great character who, despite the seriousness of the case, provides some very light-hearted moments.

While this could definitely be described as a murder-mystery plot, the inclusion of the mysterious diary entries and the ghostly undercurrent at the school, gives it a slight air of the supernatural. I admit to not being a huge fan of ‘ghost’ stories, but Elly Griffiths has provided just enough of this genre to make it a completely believable read. I particularly enjoyed reading the snippets of R. M. Holland’s The Stranger which were included throughout the book. This provided a Gothic feel and certainly helped to ramp up the tension.

The end of the book had a credible conclusion and, with hindsight, it became apparent that clues had been dotted throughout. The Stranger Diaries has a well-crafted, enjoyable plot and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every page. Definitely one of my favourite reads of the year!

With thanks to Net Galley and Quercus for my ARC.


The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths

Christmas is approaching and magician Max Mephisto has secured a headline spot at the Brighton Hippodrome in a double act with his daughter, Ruby. The show has received notoriety status due to one of the acts on the bill – a living tableau, depicting scenes from history, consisting of semi-naked young women. When a body is found, posed like one of the scenes being performed, suspicion falls on the theatre world as DI Edgar Stephens starts his investigation. After a second body turns up, those involved in the act begin to fear for their lives. Can the culprit be apprehended before more bodies are discovered?

The Vanishing Box is the fourth in the Stephens and Mephisto series and this time we see them in 1953. Although he keeps being told that variety is dead, Max is still drawing in the crowds with his magic act, only this time he has to share his billing with his daughter, Ruby. Torn between his love for his daughter and his desire to work alone, Max is not having a particularly happy time so when he gets close to one of the girls in the tableau, things start to look up for him. Max soon finds his plans destroyed, however, and we see him reaching a huge turning point in his life, the consequences of which I hope we get to read about in the next book.

Edgar is also at a crossroads in his life. Engaged to Ruby, but with clear feelings for Emma, one of his fellow officers, will Ruby’s desire to make it on the stage drive a wedge between the couple? With the murder case taking up more and more of his time, the couple are spending less time together than ever, and Edgar and Emma appear to be getting closer.

I love the setting of these books – the theatre world – as it provides each story with a string of fascinating characters who really fit well into the plot. This book, in particular, had some great characters who really brought the era alive. It is easy to imagine the Brighton of the 1950s, a time when variety shows were still popular yet the popularity of the television was beginning to grow.

The Vanishing Box is a great mystery with some gruesome murders and plenty of suspects to keep you guessing until the very end. This could work as the end of the series, but I really hope it isn’t as I am finding the Stephens and Mephisto books brilliant reads and this one is probably the best so far. More please!

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

The year is 1953 and the coronation of the new queen is imminent. When the murder of Colonel Cartwright, the former wartime commander of DI Edgar Stephens and Max Mephisto, is discovered, they begin to wonder if this is another link to the shadowy Magic Men after a playbill containing the name of another deceased comrade is found amongst his possessions. With investigations into the death of fortune teller, Madame Zabini, and Max’s forthcoming TV appearance, Stephens has his work cut out when he fears an anarchist group is plotting to make the coronation go off with a bang…

The Blood Card is the third of the Stephens and Mephisto series and sees the pairing being forced to embrace the moving times. The invention and growth in popularity of the television has been worrying Max for a while, fearing that it will put an end to his career on the stage. He finally agrees to take part in a show and it is amusing to watch his distrust of the medium compared to the way Edgar’s mother has welcomed it into her home. Edgar, meanwhile, is experiencing something new himself by travelling to New York on an aeroplane. The huge chasm between England and America is revealed as the detective feels like a fish out of water in this strange, huge place.

The mystery is a complicated one as there are numerous characters who you know are going to be interlinked in some way or other. As in the style of a good magician, there is a lot of misdirection so that you are never quite sure which character is good and which is involved with one of the crimes. It was pleasing to read a book where I was still wondering who the criminals were towards the end.

I am still not taken with Edgar’s choice of fiancée, Ruby. Edgar seems to have a lot more invested in the relationship, whereas it feels as though Ruby sees him as a stopgap until fame and fortune comes beckoning. I think it would also suit Max if the  couple were to split up!

The Blood Card is another great read and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths

When two children disappear only to be found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, DI Edgar Stephens has the unenviable task of investigating their murder. One of the victims, Annie, was a keen writer with a particular interest in penning plays based on fairy tales – could their deaths have something to do with these macabre versions of children’s classics or is there a link to a murder that happened several decades earlier?

Smoke and Mirrors is the second in the Stephens and Mephisto series and this time we see the infamous magician, Max Mephisto, doing something he’d hoped he’d never do – playing the villain in a pantomime. His role in the theatre, though, provides his friend, Edgar, with potential leads and introduces him to several potential suspects. In this book, we begin to see Max toying with the idea of settling down – something else he never thought he would do!

Despite their best efforts, the police are struggling to break the case and when another body is found, they fear they could have a serial killer on their hands. It is fascinating reading how the police operated in the post-war era, having to rely on leg work rather than the modern technology that is in use today. Aiding Edgar in his investigation is a young female officer, Emma Holmes. Tenacious and hard-working, I grew to like her character as the book progressed and hope that she is someone who will appear in the next books in the series.

Smoke and Mirrors is a very entertaining read with an original mystery and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing until the very end.

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

When the body of a young woman is found, cut into three pieces, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is instantly reminded of a magic trick known as the Zig Zag Girl. He seeks out the inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, a magician who is still performing his act up and down the country, and someone who Stephens knew from the war when they were members of a ‘secret’ unit known as The Magic Men. Initially, Max is reluctant to help with the investigation until it becomes apparent that he knew the victim. When another victim is found, it becomes apparent that The Magic Men are being targeted. Will any of them be able to escape with their lives?

I am a huge fan of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths and so I felt that it was high time that I gave her other series a read. The Zig Zag Girl is the first of the Stephens and Mephisto series, set in 1950 in Brighton, a time when the memories of World War Two were still fresh in the minds of all those involved. It is no surprise, then, that wartime events play a prominent role in the plot.

The story is a macabre one, with victims being dispatched in a variety of ways – all linked to magic tricks that have been performed onstage. The magic provides a link to the role of Stephens and Mephisto during the war when they were tasked to develop ways of creating illusions as a way of tricking the enemy. We also meet several others who formed part of this unit and it was fun trying to figure out who, if any of them, was the killer and which of them would be killed.

One of the main strengths in The Zig Zag Girl is the characterization of the main protagonists. They are a proper mismatched pair with the staid Stephens being a massive contrast to the more flamboyant Mephisto. Despite this, they work really well as a double act and complement each other perfectly. I also loved reading scenes involving Stephens and his mother and found their relationship real yet humorous.

This is definitely a series I will be continuing with and I already have the next book lined up!

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