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Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths

Houghton Mifflin, 341 pages, $25

I have enjoyed Elly Griffiths’ series featuring Ruth Galloway, a contemporary forensic archaeologist situated in Norfolk, England. Griffiths’ stories and character portrayals have grown stronger over the years. Not part of this series, “The Zig Zag Girl” concentrates on a story set a few years after the end of World War II.

Edgar Stephens is a police inspector in Brighton, England. His most recent case is the gruesome death of a woman, made to look like the magic trick of sawing a girl into pieces has gone awry. But, surprise, the woman was formerly the assistant to famous stage magician Max Mephisto. And, surprise again, Edgar knows Max very well from their time spent in “The Magic Men” special unit during the war.

Some of Edgar’s memories of The Magic Men are fond, but others are brutal. Not every comrade in the unique corps was fondly embraced, but neither were there strong animosities, as far as Edgar knew. There were several stage magicians in the group; Edgar was a strong puzzle solver. Together they were tasked with manufacturing a strong military presence to fool the German fly-overs. With stage magic and strong carpentry skills, they tried their best to create the look of a heavily-armed base.

Now back in civilian life, the former members have moved on and apart. What, then, is haunting the group, drawing them back into communication as someone appears to be targeting them and those associated with them? Edgar reconnects with his old buddy, Max Mephisto, to solve the mystery.

It’s hard to shake comparisons with the Ruth Galloway series. Ruth has an fascinating job, although the number of recently deceased bodies, as opposed to ancient ones, complicates her life. Ruth is an interesting, quirky, and modern character. Edgar is more one-note in comparison, although the tension between him and his mother is interestingly presented. “The Zig Zag Girl” is more reliant on story than character at this point, assuming Griffiths intends to create a series. (Oh, wait, I see that her second Edgar/Max mystery has been released in England.) It's worth a look because Griffiths is a good storyteller.

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