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Brighton Mysteries Books In Order

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Publication Order of Brighton Mysteries Books

The Zig Zag Girl (2014)Description / Buy at Amazon
Smoke and Mirrors (2015)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Blood Card (2016)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Vanishing Box (2017)Description / Buy at Amazon
Now You See Them (2019)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Midnight Hour (2021)Description / Buy at Amazon
The Great Deceiver (2023)Description / Buy at Amazon

DI Stephens and Max Mephisto are the main character in The Brighton Mysteries Series by English author Elly Griffiths.

Postwar Britain is not a place you’d want to find yourself in. It’s not an exciting place at all. In 1950, a couple of things were being rationed such as sugar, even though there was a sense of hope for the lucky few who survived with settled existences.

When a woman’s head and legs are found in two black cases at Brighton train station, DI Edgar Stephen does not have to wait for long to discover the rest of the body when the torso is delivered to his office. Surprisingly, the box that arrived in his office using his military rank. The state in which the woman was discovered reminds the detective of a famous magician trick referred to as the Zig Zag Girl performance by a friend known as Max Mephisto.

With this unlikely coincidence, Edgar tracks down the magic performer and the rest of the men the magician performed with, a group dubbed as Magic Men- a group recruited for a special covert operation during the Second World War. After a second body is discovered, bearing the same resemblance as the first body, detective edge soon learns that the magic men’s team is being targeted. He must race against time to find out who the killer is before they pull their final and most deadly trick.

The majority of The Zig Zag Girl takes place in Brighton, England, in the 1950s, and Griffiths expertly portrays the post-war period and the poverty of the deserted coastal city. Griffiths reportedly drew on her family history – her grandpa was a music hall comic, and her mum was born and raised ‘backstage’ – to depict the variety theatre environment of the era in an accurate manner.

Edgar is a likeable guy who is a little shy and weary yet intelligent and determined. Max is more colorful, befits a magician, and together they form an excellent team. Griffiths can include some more eccentric characters due to the theatrical setting, and the ‘Magic Men’ are also quirky.

The mystery is well-conceived, utilizing several red herrings to prevent the readers from identifying the culprit too soon. The story’s more horrific criminal parts are lightened by humor and romance, and the backdrop of the Magic Men gives further intrigue.

It’s always fascinating to learn and see how magic tricks are performed behind the scenes. And to think of the existence of a team of magicians and each with a special skill, is quite intriguing. Additionally, the author uses a compelling segue into the past, introducing us to the significant play, their unique talents and how they fit together. It’s pretty fascinating that she chooses to use this technique later in the story, but it’s quite effective.

Elly Griffiths has uniquely captured the feeling of stagecraft and the behind-the-scenes of the theatre world. Even though universal to every culture, most books set in the United Kingdom often use the theme of suspicion and expectation that the perp of violent crime is a foreigner. However, this is understandable as it was soon after the war when people doubted whether television would ever succeed, limiting the exposure for those beyond their shores. On the other hand, the British appear to have an ongoing concern for the old beliefs, including beliefs about ghosts.

Smoke and Mirrors

The second book in Brighton Mysteries series takes place during pantomime season and blends a darkly realistic mystery with unending lists of suspects.

The disappearance of two twelve- and thirteen-year-old children coincides with the onset of snow, giving Detective Inspector Edgar a headache as he leads a search team in terrible weather conditions. Annie and Mark mysteriously vanish one afternoon while playing outside after school and supposedly en route to the candy store. Annie is rumoured to be “going somewhere” and is renowned for crafting fairytales with surprisingly dark turns while still in grammar school and having just graduated from junior high. A fresh performance was in the works, with the director supervising a group of young children, including her brothers and the other youngsters in the neighborhood, and producing plays in the garage-turned-theatre of “Uncle Brian.” Four days later, however, the children are found lying in the snow surrounded by lots of candies, a terrifying echo of Hansel and Gretel. Edgar, Emma Holmes and Sergeants Bob Willis struggle to progress since there are many possible routes to explore while investigating a complex case.

Max Mephisto is also in Brighton, having fallen to the “graveyard of hopes” appearing in the pantomime. With few well-paying performances in November and the appeal of doing stunts at the Palace Pier Theatre while starring as Abanzer for a prominent producer, Max is reconnected with Stan Parks. Max argues to Edgar that the candy is a diversion, but Diablo is haunted by the memories of a 1912 pantomime when babes in the wood were murdered. And he is not the only one who recalls the tragedy, as members of the present cast starred in or were associated with the tragic 1912 murder panto.

The outcome is a complex puzzle with several red herring that will have you guessing, set in the unforgettable post-war Brighton deep in the murky world of end-of-pier theatres and variety shows. Edgar’s investigation is aided by several unusual people, including the ferociously intellectual Annie Francis and Betty, but another murder raises the stakes as Christmas looms.

With post-war rations still in effect and a divide between those who served and those who did not, the mood is bleak, and the allure of a few moments of escapism at the theater is popular, as is the companionship of being a performer. Max provides access to what seems like a hidden realm, despite his limited involvement in supporting Edgar. The recurrent characters are powerful, believable in their flaws, and different. The inclusion of Sergeant Emma Holmes, a 23-year-old Roedean-educated woman, in this second installment of the series is a solid boost with enormous future potential.

Book Series In Order » Characters » Brighton Mysteries

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