Author of the Month

Name: Elly Griffiths

First Novel: The Crossing Places

Most Recent Book: Smoke and Mirrors

'Griffiths herself is a master magician when it comes to throwing the reader off the scent.'

Brighton, winter 1951.

Pantomime season is in full swing on the pier with Max Mephisto starring in ‘Aladdin’, but Max's headlines have been stolen by the disappearance of two local children. When they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it's not long before the press nickname them 'Hansel and Gretel'.

DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The girl, Annie, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms' fairy tales. Does the clue lie in Annie's unfinished - and rather disturbing - last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals that have assembled for the pantomime?

Once again Edgar enlists Max's help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But is this all just classic misdirection?

Elly Griffiths is the writer of one of my favourite crime fiction series; the Ruth Galloway novels set in Norfolk. Last year she released ‘The Zig Zag Girl’, the first novel featuring DI Edgar Stephens and magician, Edgar Mephisto. It had everything I look for in a crime series; post-war England, magic and a disturbing plot. ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ is the second in Griffiths' new series and proves her to be a fantastic writer and a major voice in British crime fiction.

The murders of two young children who are found in a macabre setting have echoes of well-known fairy tales which are often dark and chilling. Griffiths clearly knows her Grimms’ stories and is obviously having immense fun using them to mirror her plot. The pace is electric. I read this in three sittings and didn't want it to end. The two main characters are well-rounded and likeable. They move in different circles now but share a bond cemented in their past.

Elly Griffiths has done her research. The period details are spot on. This is a sublime read that will grab your attention from the shocking prologue to the final reveal. There is classic misdirection throughout this novel. Griffiths herself is a master magician when it comes to throwing the reader off the scent.

I cannot praise this novel, this series, or this author highly enough. If you are yet to discover Elly Griffiths just grab one of her books and devour it. You will not be disappointed.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) The Stephens and Mephisto series is a million miles away from Ruth Galloway. Where did the idea originate from?
It came from a poster. My grandfather was a music hall comedian and, when he died, he left me his playbills. I’ve got one of them framed over my desk and I became obsessed with the names on it: Lou Lenny and her Unrideable Mule, Ravik and Renee, Petrova’s Performing Ponies, Raydini the Gay Deceiver. I just knew I had to write about this world and these people.
2) Pantomimes and Grimms Fairy Tales feature in ‘Smoke and Mirrors’. Were you a fan of both growing up?
Yes. My granddad was often in pantomimes and I remember seeing him as the Demon King and – rather more disturbingly – as the Dame. He was a famous Abanazar in ‘Aladdin’ and that’s where I got a lot of the business for Max, including the fire-crackers up the sleeves. I love Grimms’ Fairy Tales, too – my mother used to read them to me as well as the Italian versions, which are often just as blood-thirsty.
3) The period history feels spot on. Do you have to do a lot of research when writing period crime, especially when it comes to police procedure?
I did a lot of research and read a lot of 50’s novels, which was no hardship as a lot of my favourite writers, like Monica Dickens and Howard Spring, are from that era. I also visited the old police headquarters in Brighton and talked to local historians. But, in some ways, the 50’s doesn’t seem that far away to me. I was born in the 60’s, but my father was born in 1912 and he talked the way the characters do in the books, ‘old boy’ and so on. It seems quite a natural idiom to me.
4) For the last couple of years you've alternated between writing a Ruth Galloway novel and a Stephens and Mephisto novel. How do you plan, prepare and write the two? Is the process different?
In some ways it’s the same process. I do a rough chapter plan and then just go for it. I write every day and don’t change much as I go along – I only ever write one draft. But in other ways it is different – the relationships in the Ruth books have become so complicated that sometimes it’s very difficult to know where to turn! It’s easier with the Stephens and Mephisto books, though I’m doing my best to give them tangled love lives too. Also the Ruth books are written in the present tense which can be a little challenging. The Stephens and Mephisto books are written in the simple past which seems a lot smoother and more manageable.
5) Mephisto is a magician. Why did you give a magician a starring role for your new series? And do you believe in magic?
My grandfather was on the bill with a famous magician called Jasper Maskelyne and in many ways he is the model for Max. During the war Maskelyne was even part of an espionage group called The Magic Gang. I’m not sure that I believe in magic but I’m fascinated by magicians. In some ways their craft is similar to crime writing, you have the build-up, the misdirection and the reveal. Part of the trick is to keep the audience/reader looking the wrong way.
6) I have heard a lot of rumours about the Ruth Galloway series being transferred to TV. Are you able to say anything about this?
A TV company have an option on the books. They have a commissioned a scriptwriter but that’s as far as it’s got. So many writer friends have got much further than this without making it on to the screen so I’m not holding my breath yet. I’d love to see Ruth on TV though.
7) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Can I give three? 1. Write every day (1,000 words a day is my rule) 2. Finish a book – so many people stop halfway through 3. Don’t show your work to your family and friends until it’s finished.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
I’m a huge fan of crime fiction. I love Victorian writers, the Golden Age and lots of modern writers like Val McDermid, Kate Atkinson, Lesley Thomson and William Shaw. I would say the three crime novels that have influenced me most are:

‘The Moonstone’ - Wilkie Collins. I just love his sense of place and the way that he uses different voices to tell the story.

‘The Daughter of Time’ - Josephine Tey. A novel about a murder that happened 500 years ago where the detective never leaves his hospital bed. Now that’s magic…

‘R in the Month’ - Nancy Spain. I don’t think this is still in print but it’s a wonderful, atmospheric book set in a bleak seaside town. She wrote a great pantomime novel too, ‘Cinderella Goes to the Morgue’.