25th January 2021.
DI Edgar Stephens starts his day with the discovery of two parts of a woman’s body, stuffed into cases. The third part is delivered to his office at the police station. It’s Brighton in 1950 and this is no ordinary murder mystery.
Stephens is assisted by an old friend, Max Mephisto, a magician, who regularly saws women into three as part of his act. While the two are very different characters, they share a past in a wartime military unit, dubbed the Magic Men. When other members of the unit are killed, their murders resembling various stage illusions performed by Max, everything points to unfinished business from the past.
The main characters are well drawn, and the relationship between Edgar and Max is the glue that holds the story together as they try to connect all the lines and identify the killer. Factor in the disagreements and animosities within the Magic Men unit and there are plenty of suspects.
Unfortunately they are being killed one by one.
The pace and atmosphere is warm, gentle and easy going, despite the brutality of the murders. The challenges arising as a new post war era gathers momentum are revealed through the decay in variety hall entertainment and the struggles some performers have in adapting to the changes. But the show must go on, even if there’s a killer ready to pounce.
With a couple of surprises and an exciting climax, the story is neatly wrapped up, ready for a sequel.
When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.
The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.
Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.
Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick’, the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in the killer’s sights…