A band of magicians who served together in World War II track a killer who’s performing their deadly tricks.
Brighton, 1950. The body of a girl is found cut into three pieces. Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is convinced the killer is mimicking a famous magic trick—the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old war friend of Edgar’s. They served together in a shadowy unit called the Magic Men, a special ops troop that used stage tricks to confound the enemy. Max is on the traveling show circuit, touring seaside towns with ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. He’s reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate, but advises him to identify the victim quickly — it takes a special sidekick to do the Zig Zag Girl. Those words come back to haunt Max when the dead girl turns out to be Ethel, one of his best assistants to date. He’s soon at Edgar’s side, hunting for Ethel’s killer. Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max are sure the answer to the murders lies in their army days. And when Edgar receives a letter warning of another “trick” on the way — the Wolf Trap — he knows they’re all in the killer’s sights.
Worldbuilding: I loved the post-WWII Brighton setting, especially experiencing the environment through the eyes of these ex-special-ops. And I also really enjoyed the blend of actual historical data with fiction, I felt it was very cleverly done.
Characters: Ed and Max were very interesting, but then again a few of the characters were. I must say I loved Ed for his sense of civic duty and his all-around good boy vibe, but Max, effortlessly charming, charismatic, and entirely fun was my favorite. I loved the two of them working together, because I felt they complemented each other very well and were more fun than on their own, in fact.
I also enjoyed Diablo, and Ruby wasn’t bad at all, either. In short, a fun and interesting cast of magic characters – they are magicians after all, lol, and it was a twist I really enjoyed.
I really loved reading about how these ex-special-ops settled back into civilian life after the war was over, though I usually dislike reading about such things (they tend to be more traumatic than dramatic for me emotionally), but in this case it was utterly fascinating due to the peculiar nature of the Magic Men and the nature of action they saw during their ops. In other words, they weren’t as traumatized as others were, due to their truly special kind of ops.
Plot: The murder mystery tangent was quite interesting and thought-provoking, though as things went on I think I was pretty sure who the real killer was about half-way into the novel. Don’t let that ruin your mood to give The Zig Zag Girl a try, though! I’ve read zounds of mysteries and seen almost all the detective shows and movies I could possibly have seen. The Zig Zag Girl was entertaining and had me guessing for a good while, and that’s actually tough to pull off. I have these plot-instincts of doom and usually predict what’s going to happen based on the setting/info that precedes the actual plot twist. In short, I’m saying it was a satisfying mystery, with a pretty exciting end. In fact, the last part of the novel was the most exciting, as it’s to be expected with the mystery-solving rush.
Writing: Third person, past tense narrative, from Ed and Max’s POV. I liked the style, it went well with the time in history the story was set in, and there was some dry humor here and there (more surrounding Max, though Ed wasn’t without either, to be fair) that I really enjoyed. I might have enjoyed even more of it, but that’s a subjective view on things, ofc – I love good humor, in all reads.
Curb Appeal: Interesting cover, hooking blurb. It’s impulsive buy material for my historical mystery cravings (of which I have plenty xD).
All in all, I do recommend you give The Zig Zag Girl a try if you’re into post-WWII mysteries and settings somewhat in the vein of Agatha Christie’s Poirot stories but with a modern nature of crimes & investigative twist.