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....
"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)
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Another first rate crime novel from Elly Griffiths
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.
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.
Yes. The first novel in this series. It is just as well done.
See the answer about memorable moments
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.
This is the type of story that starts slow but becomes intriguing. I enjoyed the characters once I began to picture them.
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.
His voice matched the times.