The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths

Publication date: 2 November, 2017, Quercus Books

Source: review copy via NetGalley

My rating: 3*

Blurb:

Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked ‘living statues’. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens’ investigation into the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there’s one thing the old comrades have learned it’s that, in Brighton, the line between art and life – and death – is all too easily blurred…

My thoughts:

This is the fourth book in the DI Stephens and Max Mephisto series. Known as the ‘Magic Men’ they had been part of a top-secret espionage unit during the War.

It is set in 1953 at Christmas just a few months after the previous book in the series, The Blood Card and magician Max Mephisto is still sceptical about performing magic on TV with his daughter Ruby in a show called Magician and Daughter. Meanwhile his old friend, DI Edgar Stephens and his team are faced with solving the murder of Lily Burtenshaw, who had been strangled and found in her room tied to a chair, leaning forward and pointing to an empty crate with ‘King Edward Potatoes’ written on the side.

Max and Ruby are performing at the Brighton Hippodrome using a human sized version of the Vanishing Box in their act. The variety show also includes an act called the Living Tableaux, showing scenes from famous paintings or classical statutory, posed by a troupe of showgirls, naked apart from skimpy flesh coloured pants. Two of the showgirls, Betty and Janette, have become friends with Lily and are lodging at the same boarding house, but Edgar wonders if there is another connection between Lily and the Living Tableau? There is something so theatrical about the way the body was posed. Edgar and his two sergeants, Emma Homes and Bob Willis, begin their search for the killer, looking for motives and suspects. Then more murders are discovered and it becomes a desperate hunt to find the killer before he/she strikes again.

I enjoyed this book but for me there is too much focus on the main characters and their relationships. Edgar is engaged to Ruby, although Max is still not too happy about it.  However, his work means he isn’t able to spend much time with her. Meanwhile Emma’s feelings for him are getting stronger and their relationship deepens as she is drawn into deadly danger. Max’s relationship with Mrs M, his landlady in Brighton, is winding down and he is attracted to Florence, another one of the showgirls.

I liked the insight into the 1950s, particularly the theatre life. Illusion and misdirection play a large part – from the acts in the variety show to the murders, and all is not what it seems. The misdirection in the form of several twists and turns threw me off course.The clues are there, if you can but see them, yet I still had little idea who the killer could be until very near the end.

My thanks to Quercus Books and Netgalley for an advance review copy of this book ahead of publication on 2nd November.

New Books

Over the last few months I’ve been lucky enough to receive copies of these books for review. I’ve finished some of them and am currently reading a few, with more yet to start:

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore – first published 2 March 2017 – set in 1792, Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. Weaving a deeply personal and moving story with a historical moment of critical and complex importance, Birdcage Walk is an unsettling and brilliantly tense drama of public and private violence, resistance and terror.

The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies and the Struggle for Global Power by Niall Ferguson – publication date 5 October 2017 – non fiction. Most history is hierarchical: it’s about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that’s simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks – leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati? I’m currently reading this book.

Fair of Face by Christina James – publication 15 October 2017. This is set in the Fenlands of South Lincolnshire, where a double murder is discovered in Spalding. The victims are Tina Brackenbury and her baby daughter. Her 10 year-old foster daughter, Grace has escaped the killer because she was staying at her friend, Chloe Hebblethwaith’s house at the time. Four years earlier Chloe had escaped the massacre of her family. DI Yates and his team face a series of apparently impossible conundrums.

Katharina: Deliverance by Margaret Skea – publication 18 October 2017.   A compelling portrayal of Katharina von Bora, set against the turmoil of the Peasant’s War and the German Reformation … and of Martin Luther, the controversial priest at its heart. The consequences of their meeting in Wittenberg, on Easter Sunday 1523, has reverberated down the centuries and throughout the Christian world. I have finished reading this book – my review will follow in the next few days.

The Last Hours by Minette Walters – publication date 2 November 2017. Historical fiction set in 1348 about the Black Death. In the estate of Develish in Dorsetshire, Lady Anne quarantines the people, including two hundred bonded serfs, by bringing them with the walls.  Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside they fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more. Who amongst them has the courage to leave the security of the walls? I’m currently reading this book.

The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths – publication date 2 November 2017. The fourth book in the Stephens and Mephisto mystery series. It’s Christmas 1953, Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked ‘living statues’. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens’ investigation into the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there’s one thing the old comrades have learned it’s that, in Brighton, the line between art and life – and death – is all too easily blurred… I have finished reading this book – my review will follow.

The Hanged Man by Simon Kernick – publication date 16 November 2017. This is the  second in The Bone Field series, featuring DI Ray Mason and PI Tina Boyd. A house deep in the countryside where the remains of seven unidentified women have just been discovered. A cop ready to risk everything in the hunt for their killers. A man who has seen the murders and is now on the run in fear of his life. So begins the race to track down this witness before the killers do.

The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths

Blurb:

Something evil is waiting in the dark tunnels under Norwich – forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway had better watch her step

Boiled human bones have been found in Norwich’s web of underground tunnels. When Dr Ruth Galloway discovers they were recently buried, DCI Nelson has a murder enquiry on his hands. The boiling might have been just a medieval curiosity – now it suggests a much more sinister purpose.

Meanwhile, DS Judy Johnson is investigating the disappearance of a local rough sleeper. The only trace of her is the rumour that she’s gone ‘underground’. This might be a figure of speech, but with the discovery of the bones and the rumours both Ruth and the police have heard that the network of old chalk-mining tunnels under Norwich is home to a vast community of rough sleepers, the clues point in only one direction. Local academic Martin Kellerman knows all about the tunnels and their history – but can his assertions of cannibalism and ritual killing possibly be true?

As the weather gets hotter, tensions rise. A local woman goes missing and the police are under attack. Ruth and Nelson must unravel the dark secrets of The Underground and discover just what gruesome secrets lurk at its heart – before it claims another victim.

My thoughts:

The Chalk Pit is the 9th in Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books. It’s written in the present tense which I find somewhat jarring (strange because in other books such as Eyes Like Mine, which I reviewed in this post, I hardly noticed the tense). But I did enjoy this book because of the characters, in particular Ruth, her daughter, Kate (now nearly 6 years old), DCI Harry Nelson and his wife Michelle, DS Clough, DS Judy Johnson and Cathbad, the part-time druid, who now looks after their two young children. I also like the archaeological investigations, although in The Chalk Pit that is not the main focus.

It centres on the plight of homeless people and the maze of tunnels under Norfolk. The bones are found during the excavations when an underground restaurant in one of the tunnels is proposed. One of the homeless women, Barbara, disappears and there are rumours that she has ‘gone underground‘. It becomes a murder mystery when two more of the homeless, ‘Aftershave Eddie’ and then ‘Bilbo’ are found dead, both stabbed. Then two local women go missing – Sam who has four children and Cassandra, Clough’s partner (they have one child). And it soon becomes clear that all these events are linked.

There is a Who’s Who of the main characters at the end of the book giving their backstories which helps if you haven’t read the earlier books. But I think it really helps to read the Ruth Galloway books in order as the recurring characters’ lives progress with each one, making it difficult to write much more about The Chalk Pit without giving away spoilers. I’ll just add that one of my favourite characters, Cathbad, doesn’t have a large role, which disappointed me. And I really would prefer if Elly Griffiths had written this in the past tense as she has in her Stephens and Mephisto series, which I prefer.

My thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for an ARC of this book which will be published on 23 February 2017.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2490 KB
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (23 Feb. 2017)
  • My rating: 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4 stars on Goodreads)

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

The Blood Card (DI Stephens & Max Mephisto, #3)The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths is the third in the DI Stephens and Max Mephisto series. Known as the ‘Magic Men’ they had been part of a top-secret espionage unit during the War.

This book captures the atmosphere of 1953 – a time of great change and optimism. Britain is looking forward with eager anticipation to the new Queen’s coronation. The newspapers and newsreels are full of it and more than half the homes in the country have bought a television in order to watch the coronation live- it was the first British coronation to be broadcast on television, a momentous occasion. But there are fears that an anarchist group is plotting to disrupt the coronation.

Max, a magician, and his daughter Ruby, also a magician, are preparing for a TV Coronation Variety show, whilst Edgar is leading the investigation into death of Madame Zabini, a gypsy fortune teller, on Brighton pier.  However, when their former war-time commander is murdered both Edgar and Max are instructed to investigate his death. A playing card, the ace of hearts had been found on his body, next to the knife still in his chest. Magicians call it the ‘blood card‘.

Whilst Max investigates the show business connection, Edgar flies to the States to interview a witness who has links to an anarchist group, leaving Sergeant Emma Holmes to look into Madame Zabini’s death. At first it looked as though she had committed suicide when her body had been found washed up near the Palace Pier but Emma suspects it was not an accident or suicide. As the investigations progress it appears there may be a connection between the two deaths and also links to the plot to disrupt the coronation.,

I loved the way this book is so firmly set in 1953, and conveys the public’s excitement about the new Queen and the coronation, especially as it was being broadcast live on television. I enjoyed the insight into the history of television as Max is sceptical about performing magic on TV thinking the ‘smug grey box’ will be the death of the days of music hall, that magic tricks needed to be performed on stage not in close up with a camera over his shoulder. But he is persuaded to take part in a new show after the coronation – Those were the Days ( that is The Good Old Days). And I also liked the character progression as Edgar and Max continue their friendship. Edgar is engaged to Ruby, although Max is not too happy about it. And Edgar appears to be unaware of Emma’s feelings for him. How this will end is yet to be resolved.

The Blood Card is a most entertaining book, with a convincing cast of characters. The mystery is expertly handled, with plenty of suspense and lots of twists and turns as the separate plot strands are intricately woven together. I loved it.

Thanks Quercus Books and Netgalley for an advance review copy of this book ahead of publication on 3rd November.

Amazon UK link

Book Beginnings: The Outcast Dead

Book Beginnings ButtonEvery Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week’s book is The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths, which I’m planning to read soon. It begins:

‘And we ask your abundant blessing, Lord, on these, the outcast dead.

There is a murmured response from the group gathered on the bank below the castle walls. But Ruth Galloway, standing at the back, says nothing. She is wearing the expression of polite neutrality she assumes whenever God is mentioned. This mask has stood her in good stead over the years and she sees no reason to drop it now. But she approves of the Prayers for the Outcast Dead. This brief ecumenical service is held every year for the unknown dead of Norwich: the bodies thrown into unmarked graves, the paupers, the plague victims, forgotten, unmourned, except this motley collection of archaeologists, historians and sundry hangers-on.

Friday 56Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

Ruth drinks her cold cappuccino and wonders how Cathbad always manages to make her feel so guilty. It’s not her fault that his friend’s been arrested.

Blurb:

Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway has excavated a body from the grounds of Norwich Castle, once a prison. The body may be that of Victorian murderess Jemima Green. Called Mother Hook for her claw-like hand, Jemima was hanged for the murder of five children.

DCI Harry Nelson has no time for long-ago killers. Investigating the case of three infants found dead, one after the other, in their King’s Lynn home, he’s convinced that their mother is responsible.

Then a child goes missing. Could the abduction be linked to the long-dead Mother Hook? Ruth is pulled into the case, and back towards Nelson.

I always enjoy the Ruth Galloway books, despite the fact that they are written in the present tense, so I’m hoping this one is just as good as the earlier books. This is the sixth in the series. (I’m behind with this series ‘“ the seventh book was published earlier this year.) They are a mix of modern day murder mysteries and archaeology, with an added element of the supernatural.

Opening Lines: A Room Full of Bones

First chapterDiane at Bibliophile By the Sea hosts this weekly meme. The idea is that you post the opening paragraph (sometimes maybe a few ) of a book you decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s).

I’d have read A Room Full of Bones anyway as it’s the latest Elly Griffiths’s latest Ruth Galloway Investigation and I’ve read and loved the earlier books, but the opening lines certainly set the scene and make me want to read more:

 The coffin is definitely a health and safety hazard. It fills the entrance hall, impeding the view of the stuffed Auk, a map of King’s Lynn in the 1800s and a rather dirty oil painting of Percival, Lord Smith, the founder of the museum. The coffin’s wooden sides are swollen and rotten and look likely to disgorge their contents in a singularly gruesome manner.

 Elly Griffiths’s website has more information.

The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths: a Book Review

The House at Seas End by Elly Griffiths is the third Ruth Galloway Investigation. I enjoyed the first two more than this last one. I found the use of the present tense in this book grated on me more than the other two and I thought the mystery element less than satisfactory – I solved it straight away! But having said all that it was still an enjoyable book, because of the characters.

It’s all about Ruth, her job as a forensic archaeologist, her baby and its father, and how she copes with juggling work and bringing up a child, or rather how she struggles with it all.

The bones of six people are found in a gap in the cliff, a sort of ravine, where there had been a rock fall at Broughton Seas End. Seas End House stands perilously close to the cliff edge above the beach.

High up on the furthest point of the cliff, is a grey stone house, faintly gothic in style, with battlements and a curved tower facing out to sea. A Union Jack is flying from the tower. (location 51)

These bones aren’t as ancient as those Ruth usually investigates and date back to about fifty or sixty years earlier. Chemical tests indicate they are of German origin and there are local stories about strange happenings concerning the Home Guard during the war. The captain of the Home Guard was Buster Hastings, the father of the current owner of Seas End House, Jack Hastings. Does he know more than he is admitting?  Added to this mystery there is also the death of Dieter Eckhart, an investigative journalist to solve. Who wanted him dead and why?

This brings DCI Harry Nelson into the picture and as in the earlier books Ruth is drawn into great danger as she delves further into both mysteries. Other characters from the earlier books are also here – Ruth’s friends, Shona and Cathbad, the part-time Druid. I found some of the back stories slowed the action down too much for my liking and I just wanted it to move along. I found this at odds with the present tense, which does rush my reading. I really, really do wish these books weren’t written in the present tense!

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 475 KB
  • Print Length: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Quercus (6 Jan 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language English
  • ASIN: B004MME2H4
  • Source: I bought it