Sunday, August 27, 2017

Book Review: 'The Blood Card' by Elly Griffiths

"The Blood Card," by Elly Griffiths, opens in 1953, a few weeks before the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Forty-three year old Max Mephisto is one of the Magic Men, an espionage unit that used misdirection to deceive the enemy during the Second World War. Although England is now at peace, there are rumors that someone may be planning to disrupt the festivities celebrating Elizabeth's ascension to the throne. Meanwhile, Max and his daughter Ruby are preparing to make their television debuts. Both conjurers hope to wow a live audience as well as millions of viewers watching at home "on a tiny black and white screen."

The book's mystery involves the murder of Colonel Peter Cartwright, a former senior army officer who once commanded Max and his fellow recruits, including Max's close friend, thirty-three year old DI Edgar Stephens. Edgar, who is investigating Cartwright's death, takes a close look at ambiguous clues left behind in the colonel's lodgings. Edgar is ably assisted by his detective sergeants, Emma Holmes and Bob Willis. On a personal note, Edgar is in love with Max's beautiful and talented daughter Ruby, whom he plans to marry. In this colorful, humorous, and well-researched tale, Griffiths recreates the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of England in the fifties. In those days, people like Max drank whiskey and smoked to their hearts' content, television was the latest craze, and the days of live variety shows were numbered.

Griffith's characters are amusingly idiosyncratic. There is a cast of Roma (formerly known as gypsies), one of whom, a fortune-teller named Madame Zabini jumped, fell, or was pushed off a pier. It is a treat to be in Max Mephisto's lively company; Edgar, Ruby, Emma are an appealing trio; and Griffiths' dialogue is consistently funny and clever. The novel's weakest elements are its sluggish pace and underdeveloped plot concerning shadowy conspirators up to no good. The solution to the puzzle comes out of left field and is rather unconvincing. Still, readers may enjoy the story's historical, social, and cultural allusions, bask in the glow of Edgar's and Ruby's romance, applaud Max's initiative and resourcefulness, and enjoy the atmosphere of Brighton, a seaside mecca for tourists. "The Blood Card" may not be a dazzling whodunit, but it is a humorous and diverting work of fiction.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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