The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto Mystery #4) by Elly Griffiths | Book Review

 

Published by Quercus

Available in ebook, hardback (2 November 2017) | Paperback (1 November 2018)

368 pages

Source: Copy provided by the Book People for review



I would like to thank the Book People for providing a copy of The Vanishing Box for review.  They sell a wide range of fiction novels, non-fiction, children’s books and stationery at up to 75% off RRP.  As well being online, they regularly come to our office building with a selection of books  – I don’t usually leave the tables without buying something!

 

|   About the Book   |

 

Winter, 1953. A young flower seller is found dead in her room at a Brighton boarding-house, posed with chilling perfection into a recreation of the death of Lady Jane Grey. This is a killer unlike any DI Edgar Stephens has encountered before.

Across the city at the Hippodrome theatre, Max Mephisto is top of the bill in a double act with his daughter Ruby. Tarnishing the experience, though, is one of the other acts: a seedy ‘living tableaux’ show where barely-dressed women strike poses from famous historical scenes. Is the resemblance to the murder scene pure coincidence, or is life imitating art?

When another death occurs – this time within the troupe itself – Max once again finds himself involved in one of Edgar’s cases, and a threat that will come closer to home than anything before. What should be just a job is about to become personal.

 

|   My Thoughts   |

 

As many will be aware, Elly Griffiths has two book series in publication, The Ruth Galloway stories and this series, Stephens and Mephisto. I have been collecting most of both series’ over time but this is the first of the Stephens and Mephisto I have read – and I’m jumping in at book 4! Why do I do this to myself!

Although I will definitely go back and read the previous books in the series, because I enjoyed this one so much, I didn’t actually feel at a huge disadvantage by not reading the others. I may have missed out on character development but enough backstory is given throughout to make this an enjoyable reading experience

Set in the early 1950’s, this story could have been the love child of Dixon of Dock Green and Heartbeat. No computers, no mobile phones, no CSI teams or DNA profiling, bobbies on bicycles – it brings it home how very different policing was then compared to the high speed modern policing methods that we take for granted today. I very much doubt you would get a modern day detective taking a box brownie camera to photograph a crime scene as Edgar Stephens did here!

The story is set in Brighton and the author does a convincing job of describing the setting and location, including the main venue, the Brighton Hippodrome; the faded glamour of the public part of the theatre compared to the dark and dingy backstage areas. Set in winter, the snow and icy conditions do their best to hinder the investigation.

Max and Edgar first met during the war and have continued their friendship – the magician and the detective – such an unusual pairing. Although this is a murder mystery, there is gentle quality to the writing and the story is reminiscent of a Golden Age mystery. Griffiths spares no details when describing a crime scene but nothing is unduly graphic or gratuitous.

It is December 1953 and magicians Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby French are the stars of a two week variety show at the Brighton Hippodrome. ‘The Vanishing Box’ of the title, being part of their act. As well as a comedian and ventriloquist, the performers include a group of young girls who perform a living tableau show comprising of near naked women posing as statues of historical figures, with only strategically placed feathers to hide their modesty. There are of course people who are outraged by such vulgarity but would such a show really incite someone to commit murder?

The first murder occurs at a lodging house where some of the show girls stay. The murderer has staged the body to represent a painting and DI Edgar Stephens and his colleagues Sergeants Emma Holmes and Bob Willis are at a loss to understand why an innocent young woman who works in a flower shop has been killed. When further murders occur, similarly staged, the race is on to find out who and why.

Max Mephisto is in his mid 40s and is an intriguing character, it felt as though he had come to a crossroads, both in his personal and professional life. No doubt his character has been built up from the previous books and this is one reason why I want to catch up. He appears to have acquired a grown up daughter from a previous relationship and although they work well together on stage, the personal relationship between him and Ruby feels a little awkward at times, as if they are still getting used to each other. To make the connection with Mephisto and the detective even more complicated, Ruby is engaged to DI Edgar Stephens – surely a conflict of interests at times there!

I actually didn’t have a clue who the murderer was, the red herrings and subtle misdirection certainly fooled me. Griffiths does a really good job of keeping the interest and suspense going throughout whilst evoking the period atmosphere of the 1950s. As a crime story with a bygone feel to it, one to recommend.  I certainly enjoyed it.

|   Author Bio   |

 

Elly Griffiths was born in London. The inpsiration for her books about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway came from her husband who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist. Elly lives near Brighton but often spends holidays on the wild Norfolk coast. She has two children and a cat.

 

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