review by Maryom
It's November 1951 and Brighton is getting ready for Christmas with lights along the prom and panto in the pier theatre - even the weather is getting in the mood with snow blanketing the town. For DI Edgar Stephens and his team, the snow isn't welcome at all - it's merely hampering the police's efforts to trace two missing children. Thirteen year old Annie and best friend twelve year old Mark had been playing on the street with other children, rehearsing one of the rather gruesome fairy-tale inspired plays that Annie used to write, but in the few minutes it took to walk to the sweet shop they had disappeared. When their bodies are discovered, with a trail of sweets seemingly pointing to them, the immediate suspect is the shop-owner, but to Edgar the whole scene seems reminiscent of the tale of Hansel and Gretel. He seems surrounded by too may leads, and too many suspects - the young teacher who encouraged Annie's writing? the neighbour who allowed the children to perform in his converted garage? or maybe there's a link to a previous murder, many years before, in which a child star appearing in the panto Babes in the Wood was killed?
Edgar's friend, and war-time colleague, Max Mephisto, in Brighton playing evil villain Abanazar in Aladdin, comes to his help with behind the scenes theatre gossip but, as a stage magician, feels that somehow the investigation is being distracted in the classic "smoke and mirrors" way...
Oddly, I've been to a couple of Elly Griffiths 's events, really enjoyed them and left feeling I really must read her books - but not got round to it! I'd intended to pick up this new series at the beginning - but again I've failed, and jumped in at Book2. Although I'll go back and read the first, The Zig-zag Girl, this second stands well alone. The back story is explained enough for a new-comer to understand, though I'd guess there are spoilers for book one in there, but really this story stands on its own. It unfolded in a way to keep me hooked - first the desperate search for the children, then the sad discovery of their bodies, with insights into possible motives and suspects revealed gradually, as and when discovered by the police, but not deliberately with-held by the author (I hate that!). Set in the 1950s there are obviously a lot of modern methods unavailable to DI Stephens and his colleagues - but in some ways this can lead to a more engrossing story; the answer isn't found by an anonymous scientist in a lab but by old-fashioned observation and deduction.
There's also an intriguing personal story going on for Edgar Stephens, which I won't divulge but which has me wanting to know what will happen next in his life. In this respect, I think readers ARE going to be teased - with Edgar being led in a direction they won't want him to go!
I'm now a confirmed Elly Griffiths fan and my only regret is not having made the effort to read her work before - but on the plus side, there's lots waiting for me to discover and I don't have to wait for a new book to be published.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Quercus
Genre - adult historical crime