Now You See Them By Elly Griffiths: a schoolgirl’s disappearance is just the opener to a dark, disturbing mystery - book review -

Now You See Them
Now You See Them

In trademark style, Griffiths’ plotting is intriguing, multi-layered and full of rich detail, each character is honed to perfection, the social backdrop is immaculately researched, and the frustrations of young women constrained by outdated notions of a man’s world are perfectly portrayed.

A brave new world is dawning in Brighton as the Sixties swing into action… but for the local police, a schoolgirl’s disappearance is just the opener to a dark, disturbing mystery.

If you haven’t already been swept away to the shadowy corners of one of the south coast’s busiest and most vibrant resorts, then now would be an excellent time to discover the sheer mastery of this cerebral, subtle and utterly beguiling series.

Now You See Them is the fifth gripping Brighton Mystery and comes from the pen of Elly Griffiths, an accomplished and elegant contemporary crime writer whose work includes the award-winning, Norfolk-based Dr Ruth Galloway series featuring a forensic archaeologist.

Griffiths has the gift of blending cosy, clever, character-driven murder mysteries with acute social observation, a superbly evoked sense of time and place, and immaculate detective work and plotting which harks back to the golden age of Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham and Josephine Tey.

These charming stories centre on a group of Second World War friends who served together as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men, using their knowledge of stage magic techniques to aid the war effort.

In their new outing, it’s now 1963 and life has moved on apace for one of the pals, Edgar Stephens, who has been promoted to police superintendent in Brighton, is married to his former police sergeant Emma Holmes and has three young children.

Edgar’s wartime partner in arms, magician Max Mephisto, is a movie star in Hollywood after moving to the States eleven years ago. Max is married to leading film actress Lydia Lamont but his daughter Ruby – to a former snake charmer called Emerald – is the star of the most popular TV show in Britain, Magic Ruby.

The funeral of old magician friend, Stan Parks, better known as the Great Diablo, reunites Edgar and Max but much has changed for them both over the last decade. Edgar is struggling with his fresh responsibilities and the new swinging Brighton of rioting mods and rockers, while Emma is chafing against the restrictions of life solely as a housewife and mother.

Edgar’s sidekick, DI Bob Willis, meanwhile, is tackling the biggest case since his own promotion… 16-year-old schoolgirl Rhonda Miles, daughter of MP Sir Crispian Miles, has gone missing from Brighton’s high-class boarding school Roedean.

It looks like she has run away but Emma, who initiates her own detective work with her friend, local newspaper reporter Sam Collins, discovers there are disturbing similarities to the disappearances of a local student nurse and a tearaway ‘modette,’ neither of whom have been seen or heard from since.

That’s three girls who have left… and none have come back.

Griffiths’ sleight of hand is a work of magic in itself as she conjures up the edgy atmosphere of Brighton in the early Sixties… a place of exciting new beginnings but still overshadowed by the legacy of war, and facing the tensions of a more oppositional brand of youth culture.

In trademark style, Griffiths’ plotting is intriguing, multi-layered and full of rich detail, each character is honed to perfection, the social backdrop is immaculately researched, and the frustrations of young women constrained by outdated notions of a man’s world are perfectly portrayed.

Add on a dash of dark humour, and a thrilling dénouement, and fans old and new will already be queueing for the next instalment.

(Quercus, hardback, £14.99)