Guest Review: The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths (3.5/5)

Thursday 11 December 2014
Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar's. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.

Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another 'trick', the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger...

Reviewed by Gordon McGhie (

Elly Griffiths is best known for her Ruth Galloway stories, however, The Zig Zag Girl is a stand-alone novel which features a new lead character: Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens.

Stephens is an immediately likeable figure and I found his friendship with a collection of magicians to be entertainingly quirky. The unusual collaboration of policeman and entertainers stems from the time Stephens served as part of a specialist intelligence unit during the Second World War. He (and the magicians) were posted to Inverness and tasked with creating the illusion of increased British military strength which would distract and divert German attention.

The events of The Zig Zag Girl are set a few years after the end of WW2 Stephens has lost contact with the other members of his unit (dubbed The Magic Men). However, the murder of a young girl, who had performed as a magician’s assistant, brings Stephens back into contact with his friend Max Mephisto. Mephisto has been touring theatres headlining the bill everywhere he goes with his famed magic act - yet we share his frustration as he sees that the days of Cabaret are drawing to a close.

The partnership of Stephens and Mephisto works well. The conventional policeman and the unconventional magician play off each other to great effect. As they renew their friendship Griffiths gets to show how their lives beyond their jobs are increasingly empty.

At the front of The Zig Zag Girl is a murder mystery. Someone has targeted the Magic Men and is bumping-off the former members of the old unit one by one. A dismembered body is delivered to the police station in a parcel addressed to Stephens. Other taunts and threats follow and Stephens and Max Mephisto find they are in a race against time to save their old colleagues - but they cannot be sure that they are not next to be targeted.

The killer uses a variety of magical tricks and illusions when committing murders which made the ‘magic’ element of the book more fun. Also, re-uniting a collection of magicians let the author set several scenes in clubs and theatres. The reader gets to see what life was like behind the curtains for the performers and added an extra dimension to the story which I really enjoyed.

I found The Zig Zag Girl to be a fun read, I loved the 1950’s setting and Elly Griffiths did a great job of catching the feel of the slower paced lifestyle of days gone by. My only concern was that I spotted the twist half-way through the story which meant that as the book drew to a close I didn’t get the level of excitement I had hoped to enjoy.

The Zig Zag Girl has a lot to offer and I am definitely going to pick up more books by Elly Griffiths as I enjoyed her writing style and the characters she created. I would award The Zig Zag Girl 3.5 out of 5.

Thanks to Gordon for the review and Quercus for the review copy.

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