Monday, September 4, 2017

Book Review: 'Smoke and Mirrors' by Elly Griffiths


In the seaside town of Brighton, England, it is a bitterly cold winter. Thirty-one year old Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens, along with his colleagues, Sergeants Emma Holmes and Bob Willis, are on the trail of a killer who has murdered two children. Edgar and his team interview the victims' friends, family, and acquaintances, but are stymied in their search for the perpetrator. Adding to their woes, there are a host of red herrings that lead a frustrated Edgar and his exhausted colleagues to waste time chasing down unproductive leads.

"Smoke and Mirrors," by Elly Griffiths, takes place in 1951, a time when investigators were limited in what they could do. Edgar's superiors are impatient when too much time passes with no suspect in custody. Ironically, the crimes are the least compelling aspects of this unexceptional, albeit occasionally entertaining, novel. What stands out is the book's colorful atmosphere and playful humor. Griffiths has a wonderful feel for time and place, and her dialogue is sharp and delightfully sardonic. Max Mephisto, Edgar's talented friend, is the star of a pantomime called "Aladdin," a show that attracts large and appreciative audiences. Max and the offbeat cast and crew run the gamut from nervous and temperamental to hard-drinking and flamboyant. Griffiths harks back to a bygone era when people enjoyed productions featuring silly sight gags, double entendres, and magic tricks that amused, amazed, and delighted men, women, and children. One fascinating sidebar that Griffiths explores is the nature of dark and threatening fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel. Although, at first glance, these creepy narratives seem inappropriate for youngsters, they have enchanted generations of boys and girls for centuries.

As the title implies, it is easy to be misled if one is unwary and unimaginative. Edgar is a dedicated law enforcement officer, but he plods along, tracking down leads that do not pan out until, at last, he realizes where he has gone wrong. Along with the blood and gore, there are romantic interludes and enough belly laughs to keep readers amused and engaged. The solution to the mystery is unconvincing--it relies on a number of people deliberately keeping mum about vital information--and ultimately, this work of fiction does not rise to the level of the early Ruth Galloway novels. Overall, "Smoke and Mirrors" is a diverting enough whodunit that is notable for its broad comedy, clever banter, theatrical lore, and vividly depicted characters.



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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