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Smoke and Mirrors

The Brighton Mysteries, Book 2
Narrated by: Daniel Philpott
Series: The Brighton Mysteries, Book 2
Length: 8 hrs and 12 mins
4 out of 5 stars (25 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Brighton, 1951. Pantomime season is in full swing on the snowy pier, with Max Mephisto starring in Aladdin. But Max's headlines have been stolen by the disappearance ­­of two local children. With fairy tales in the air, it's not long before the press have found a nickname for the case: 'Hansel and Gretel'.

DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The missing girl, Annie, used to write plays and perform them with her friends. Does the clue lie in Annie's unfinished - and rather disturbing - last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?

For Stan (aka the Great Diabolo), who's also appearing in Aladdin, the case raises more personal memories. Back before the Great War, he witnessed the murder of a young girl while he was starring in another show, an event which has eerie parallels to the current case.

Once again Edgar enlists Max's help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But with both distracted by their own personal problems, neither can afford to miss a trick. For Annie and her friend, time is running out....

©2015 Elly Griffiths (P)2015 WF Howes Ltd

Critic Reviews

"Enormously engaging.... Post-war Brighton and its Theatre Royal are beautifully captured in all their seedy glory...subtle, charming and very good." ( Daily Mail on The Zig Zag Girl)
"The historical detail is very well done...an extremely well-written and well-researched novel." ( Literary Review on The Zig Zag Girl)

What members say

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Series takes a strange turn

Oh noes!!!!! I loved The Zig Zag Girl, the first in this series, but with Smoke and Mirrors I’ve finally read an Elly Griffiths book that did not impress me!

Okay, where to start with my issues…

I always check out other people’s reviews after I finish writing my own and I did notice a lot of (obviously older) reviews mentioned The Zig Zag Girl was not part of a series. Now, a few years have passed by, and it has three sequels. I have to wonder if Griffiths never meant to write anything more with these characters and if perhaps that’s why this book feels so underdone. It was forced?

Actually I don't see the point of the series being called ‘Stephens and Mephisto’ after reading this book. Granted, what scenes Max Mephisto had were fantastic, but they were few and far between. The Great Diablo, so fun in the first book, too was relegated to a couple of irrelevant scenes. In this book DI Stephens takes the lead.

His case is the mystery of two missing/kidnapped children. I found a lot of similarities between this crime plot and a couple Griffiths has already used in the Ruth Galloway series. Right down to the inclusion of a traditional fairy tale to add a bit of creepiness.

Also like the Ruth series, Griffiths included DI Stephens’s fellow police officers in the story more. This was probably where she truly lost me.

For starters, I'd like to say that if Stephens gets a sidekick, shouldn’t it be Max? Why not? A professional policeman teaming up with an (apparent) amateur has been done several times with much success. No, as I said, Max is sidelined and replaced with Bob and Emma.

Bob was written as pretty incompetent in The Zig Zag Girl. In this book, he suddenly becomes quite capable and, for those who read the Ruth books, a complete Clough clone.

We also get a new character -- Emma Holmes. Sergeant Emma Holmes, no less. Yes, this was confusing. A story set in 1951 featuring a female detective sergeant. Okay, I’d have to research it to know for sure, but I would hazard a guess there wasn't any female detectives in 1951. And if there was one stray girl who got past the ‘plod’ stage in Brighton, I seriously doubt they’d be able to take the lead in questioning a murder suspect or witness (as Emma does).

Being cynical, I think Emma’s inclusion into the series is simply to become part of a love triangle with Edgar and Ruby. Again, Griffiths (and perhaps her publishers?) have taken what worked in the Ruth series and transferred it to this one.

In the Ruth series, the love triangle added a necessary conflict to the romantic storyline. The Ruth books are truthfully basically romance books. Their mystery plotlines are always secondary. In the Zig Zag Girl, it was the other way around. The romantic subplot took a backseat to the action and mystery. Adding the Emma character switches the focus.

Don’t get me wrong, Griffiths writes romance well and I’m sure 90% of her readers are chasing that element (not that they’d admit it) but I think she should have let the romance flow a little more organically and not specifically added an out of place (and time!) character to bolster it. There was already conflict with the Edgar/Ruby relationship anyway. There’s the age difference and the obvious problem they face due to the newly discovered identity of Ruby’s father.

I might add, Griffiths could have just concentrated on Max’s storyline with his landlady if she wanted more romance. That was a really sweet and fun subplot!

Another thing missing from this book was the charm of Brighton and the 1951 time period overall. The Zig Zag Girl seemed to use this place and time setting much more effectively. The Brighton snow seemed weird and other than the Emma character’s place in the police department being fanciful, there was also moments where Edgar’s way of thinking felt far too modern. For example, he wonders why another character hides his homosexuality from the police. Oh, I don’t know… Probably because he was afraid he might be arrested or fired from his place of work if anyone found this out! Then, he gets mad when he finds out Bob is not too impressed with homosexuals. I’m not saying this homophobic attitude is right but it was probably the usual mindset for that time. Adding our time’s sensibilities to historical books is fine by me but I prefer it when a writer does it seamlessly as opposed to hitting us over the head with a sledgehammer.

I must admit, I will continue with this series. But unfortunately all I can rate this one is 3 out of 5.

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Easy reading & listening

Characters are starting to mature, enjoyed the ending. Much better than first book. Will be interested in next book.

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Great!

The plot I this one really kept me guessing - much more than did the Zig Zag Girl (book 1 in the series). I thought the character development and introduction of more interesting female characters also made this satisfying on many levels.

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  • peter
  • 27-11-2015

Another first rate crime novel from Elly Griffiths

What made the experience of listening to Smoke and Mirrors the most enjoyable?

The quality of Elly Griffiths' writing is excellent. The characters are believable and really come to life as the story progresses. The setting of the story in the musical theatre in 1951 works very well. The cast of characters is largely the same as in the previous novel, The Zig Zag Girl, including the detective Edgar Stevens and his magician friend Max Mephisto. Even though the context for the drama is on the face of it rather implausible (the Christmas Pantomime version of Aladin) as the narrative develops the characters become more fully realised and, as such, one feels for them and shares their concerns and anxieties. So it becomes a fully engaging story. As in her Ruth Galloway novels set in Norfolk, Elly Griffiths brings wit and erudition to her writing so as well as being an interesting mystery it also draws on the darker side of children's' fairy stories which to a large extent modern versions have been sanitised and bear little relationship to the more bloodthirsty originals which provide the underlying themes of this novel. I wondered where the author had read Bruno Bettleheim's 'The Uses of Enchantment' which describes vividly the real darkness of such stories as Hansel & Gretel.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Smoke and Mirrors?

It is not particular moments which give the novel it quality but the overall excellence of the story and the characterisations of the protagonists, especially the children.

Have you listened to any of Daniel Philpott’s other performances? How does this one compare?

Yes. The first novel in this series. It is just as well done.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

See the answer about memorable moments

Any additional comments?

Another really excellent read from Elly Griffiths. She must now rate, along with Mick Herron as amongst the best of the newer British crime novelists.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • HelenM
  • 21-02-2016

Keep going

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

This is the type of story that starts slow but becomes intriguing. I enjoyed the characters once I began to picture them.

What did you like best about this story?

I like the layers of the story, the personal aspects of the policeman and magician. The way the mystery unravels is really good. This was different for Elly Griffiths but I enjoyed it.

What does Daniel Philpott bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

His voice matched the times.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Samima
  • 17-02-2016

Enthralling and atmospheric

Even better than The ZigZag Girl. A grim subject involving the murder of children, but handled expertly so the story becomes heartwarming. I love the development of the other police characters as they become more interesting, and it was great to see Max and Diablo again. Brighton in the snow and the atmosphere of life in post war early 1950s is brilliantly described. Can't wait for the next one.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Chrissie
  • 03-02-2016

Pantomime and murder, a theatrical combination.

Elly Griffiths has a great imagination, and the setting for this theatrical tale does not disappoint. The plot is worthy of being judged alongside some of the great melodramas of the Victorian era, and even if the motives for murder are predictable, the pace and backdrop are not.

An enjoyable listen very well narrated.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Claire Kendall-Price
  • 05-12-2017

Better than The Zigzag Girl

Characters now settled into their roles. Good ending. Complicated, but not predicable as Zigzag Girl.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • laura
  • 15-09-2017

magical mystery hit

It is another hit from elly griffiths as max and inspector stephens battle to save the children of brighton from disappearing just before chridtmas. evocative and beautifully read. enjoyed it even more than reading the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Margaret
  • 01-06-2016

Better than the first one

I really enjoyed the Ruth Galloway books by Elly Griffiths and the Stephens and Mephisto are very different. This is the second one and it's much better than the first. The relationship between Edgar Stephens, the detective and Max Mephisto the magician wasn't quiet enough to sustain the first book . In this one though, we have detectives Bob and Emma to help DI Stephens and make the investigators feel more of an emotionally connected and functional team.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Linda
  • 23-02-2016

If like me you like 1950s variety show settings

singing, dancing, greasepaint - and magic. You will be disappointed. Elly Griffiths is a good writer and the idea of this series is a tremendous one. But the reality is poor. The Zig Zag Girl fell short and this second instalment falls even shorter. Sorry Elly but you've really not made the most of what was obviously a very good idea.

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • SusieQ.
  • 17-10-2019

Thoroughly Enjoyable

Well read and fascinating story line. I enjoyed the setting in the 1950s and the characters

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Miss A.
  • 05-03-2019

it is engaging, and mild

Well read, nothing gory, an easy listen, where you won't miss much if you doze off for a minute or two.