Quercus | 2019 (3 October) | 368p | Review copy | Buy the book
Ten years have passed since the events presented in The Vanishing Box and much has happened to change the lives of our heroes, Brighton detective Edgar Stephens and his close friend magician Max Mephisto and so, at this vital point, I’ll come to a brief pause. Despite the lapse of time since the last novel, I really think that this wonderful series is one that should be read in order and so this review assumes you’ve read the others.
It is now 1964 and the biggest change to have affected Edgar is that he’s now married to his former sergeant, Emma, a deed which means that Emma had to give up her career and is now a full-time housewife and mother to three children. Anyone who’s read the previous novels will know how well that would sit with Emma. Edgar, by contrast, has progressed up the police ladder and is now a superintendent. As for Max, he’s now a famous film actor living in LA with his glamorous film star wife. They have young children and Max has continued to build bridges with his adult daughter Ruby, who is now a well-known actor in her own right. LA and Brighton are a long way apart but the sad death of an old mutual friend has brought everyone together to Brighton for his funeral. But as well as mourning, this is a time to catch up on old times but for Max and Edgar there’a shock in store and before long the two of them, with Emma helping them whether they like it or not, have to work together on a case that grows increasingly, horribly personal.
Young women are being snatched from the streets of Brighton. There seems little to go on but the pressure on Edgar and his team of police officers, including a young and ambitious female officer who reminds him so much of Emma, are under a great deal of pressure. Adding to the strain for Edgar is the approaching Bank Holiday. It is predicted that mods and rockers will descend on Brighton. It’s up to Edgar to keep the peace. And then Ruby goes missing and Max realises that there is nothing he won’t do to find her. He is going to need the help of Edgar and Emma, as do the distraught parents of the other missing women, one of whom is about to turn up dead.
Now You See Them is the fifth Stephens and Mephisto mystery by Elly Griffiths and I was thrilled to learn that they were to return. I love this author’s work, whether it’s the Ruth Galloway novels or a stand alone book such as The Stranger Diaries, but I have to admit to a special place in my heart for Max Mephisto. This novel represents quite a change for Max and Edgar – and for us – and it does take a bit of adjustment. The previous novels were set in the aftermath of the Second World War and during the deprived years of the early 1950s. We’re now in the early-mid 1960s, a time of the Beatles, teenage factions and fashions, a relative time of plenty, and Max in particular has scaled the heights of fame and fortune. No longer the pier-end magic shows for magician Max Mephisto. He is now a famous Hollywood actor who also happens to have inherited his title of Lord Massingham as well as his stately pile. But the biggest change is for Emma and I really felt for her. She was such a feature of the earlier novels and, while she’s just as important here, her role has changed completely. Edgar has a new WPC, Meg, who helps to fill the missing shoes, but it isn’t quite the same.
The main reason why I would recommend that you read the earlier novels first is because, like in the Ruth Galloway novels, the characters are of far more importance than the mystery. Elly Griffiths loves these people, as do the readers, and so she takes her time to bring us up to date with the changes and to refresh our affection for them. I loved this but it is possible that if you’re not familiar with what’s gone before then you might feel a little lost. Which would be a shame because this is such a beautifully written, elegant novel and it brings to life so effectively Brighton during one of its heydays in the early 1960s. There is such a sense of time and place, it’s bewitching.
The mystery is an entertaining one, it’s also rather glamorous as it has at its heart a young filmstar, Bobby Hambro, who is visiting Brighton during the early stages of a film’s production. The place is abuzz with the excitement of it all and it certainly doesn’t help with Edgar’s case of the missing girls. It’s such a good mystery. But the most interesting element of it all is, I think, Emma and her situation and how this affects her relationship with Edgar. We spend time with all of these characters and we most definitely get involved. My heart, though, belongs to Max Mephisto who is a glorious creation. I’m so delighted to see his return and I cannot wait for more of this wonderful, beautifully-written, witty and warm series.
The Chalk Pit (Ruth Galloway 9)
The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10)
The Stone Circle (Ruth Galloway 11)
The Zig Zag Girl (Stephens and Mephisto 1)
The Vanishing Box (Stephens and Mephisto 4)
The Stranger Diaries