Elly Griffiths’ ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ Is A Bewitching Mystery [REVIEW]

Snow shoes

There’s a blizzard in Brighton and two children have gone missing. (Photo by Ginny, Flickr)

Elly Griffiths once again proves why she is one of my favorite mystery writers with Smoke and Mirrors. This time out, two children are murdered during a blizzard in Brighton amid somewhat peculiar circumstances and it is up to DI Edgar Stephens and his best friend, magician Max Mephisto, to hunt down the killer. But how do classic fairy tales, pantomime, an almost forgotten crime and a strange little neighborhood theatre tie into the case? And were the dead children quite as innocent as they appeared to be? There is plenty to puzzle over in this second novel in the Magic Men mystery series.


Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

There are many reasons why this book works and is such a pleasure to read. First of all, I enjoyed reading about the time period because this novel is set shortly after World War II in 1951. It was a simpler time many of us seem to romanticize, and reading this book felt like I was watching a period piece on the BBC, complete with shiny new cars, the glamour of the theatre, dashing heroes and clever dames who are always more than what they seem. (Anyone have the number for a BBC producer? If these books haven’t been optioned yet, someone needs to do it now!)

The book’s wonderful cast is realistic and delightful. I love the whole concept of the Magic Men, a former military unit comprised of a straight man and three magicians who carried out their missions by employing sleight of hand. If that wasn’t actually ever done in the war, it should have been. The idea is brilliant! Also, although the cast plays off classic stereotypes, each character is quirky and unique in his own way. For example, I love the cheeky actor, Denton McGrew, who dresses in drag and switches personalities in a split second; Max’s shrewd and sexy landlady, Joyce Markham; and Sergeant Bob Willis of the CID who always has a droll comment to make about pretty much everything. Together, the cast plays beautifully off one another and made me laugh heartily more than once. Yet, delightful as they are, no one seems to detract from the charisma of the two leading men, Edgar and Max, who are opposites in many ways, but whose joint history makes them good foils for one another as well.

Finally, as mentioned at the onset, Griffiths offers up tons of classic misdirection in this story, and all the red herrings keep readers guessing along with everyone else. This isn’t an easy mystery to solve, and every element of the story will keep readers turning the pages, eager to see who they will meet next, how each plot point will be resolved, and whether or not they can guess the true identity of the villain before Edgar and Max do.

Before I conclude, let me say that I know there are plenty of readers out there who will automatically turn their nose up at this book because children are killed. However, let me assure you that there are no bloodbaths involved, and most of the crime happens “off camera,” as it were. This is a mystery I could easily recommend to my own mother without embarrassment, and yet which still manages to be as compulsively readable as anything ever penned by either Agatha Christie or Mary Higgins Clark. Smoke and Mirrors is pure storytelling genius. So run, don’t walk, to your local bookseller and pick up this bewitching book today!

Elly Griffiths

Elly Griffiths
(Photo by Sara Reeve)


Elly Griffiths is the author of the Ruth Galloway and Magic Men mystery series. She is the recipient of the Mary Higgins Clark Award and her work has been praised as “gripping” (Louise Penny), “highly atmospheric” (New York Times Book Review), and “must-reads for fans of crime fiction” (Associated Press).

Elly draws on the personal in her Magic Men series, taking from the experience of her grandfather, who performed on the variety show circuit after World War II. During that time he acquired a good amount of fame for his skill as a pantomime dame, meaning he performed dramatic tableaus dressed in drag.

Elly lives in Brighton, England. Visit her home on the Web, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

By Elly Griffiths
352 pgs. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $25.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

One Response to Elly Griffiths’ ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ Is A Bewitching Mystery [REVIEW]

  1. Jathan Fink says:

    Reblogged this on Jadeworks Entertainment and commented:

    What do two dead children, little known fairy stories and a stage magician have in common? Put the clues together to outwit the detectives in Elly Griffiths’ new Magic Men mystery, Smoke and Mirrors. Read our review to find out why we’re going crazy for this awesome book!

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