The special CiB meme ‘Xmas scenes from books, accompanied by carefully chosen pictures’ is back!
Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. If you use Pinterest you can see some of the beautiful seasonal pictures on this page, and you can find (endless!) more Xmas books via the labels at the bottom of the page. You’d think I’d be running out of Xmas books and scenes by now, but far from it – I have to begin this feature earlier in December each year. More ideas still welcome in the comments. (If it’s a particularly good choice I will ditch one of the ones I have ready and give you credit…)
The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths
Christmas. Edgar looked around the room as if searching for inspiration. Certainly there was nothing Christmassy in the incident room, no paper chains or Yuletide greetings… though, now he came to think of it, he thought he remembered seeing a Christmas tree in reception. Was it really that near? He looked at the date on the board. Seventeenth of December. Christmas Day was just over a week away.
‘I don’t mind,’ Lucy was saying, in the voice that meant that she did mind, rather a lot. ‘It’s just I need to know. Are you coming or not?’
[Later. Brighton is covered in snow]
He passed a group of youths throwing snowballs at the statue of the Prince Regent and realized with a shock that it was only 10 o’clock. If felt like midnight. He parked outside the Hippodrome, jumped out of the car and immediately fell flat on his face in a snowdrift. Cursing he got to his feet. The theatre was in darkness, the solid façade expressionless. Edgar ran round to the stage door and hammered on it.
commentary: For the Mephisto and Stephens mysteries, Elly Griffiths set herself quite the challenge: all the books are set in post-War Brighton (by now the mid-50s), a great atmospheric setting, and all involve the theatre and – even more specifically – a magician called Max Mephisto. She’s certainly not running out of ideas yet. (You can see blogposts on the earlier entries on the series here, or by clicking on the Mephisto label below: many of Griffiths' fabulous Ruth Galloway series are on the blog also.)
In this case a young woman has been murdered in her room in a seaside boarding-house: the other lodgers include some currently playing in a variety show at the Brighton Hippodrome. More crimes follow, and there seems to be a connection with the girls’ act of historical tableaux. The Vanishing Box is a piece of apparatus central to one of Mephisto’s best tricks. How to make a young woman (or anyone else) disappear.
Edgar Stephens is investigating, with his assistants Emma and Bob. Edgar is engaged to Ruby, who is Max’s daughter, and is another magician. Solving the murders involves – happily – many visits to both the theatre and the boarding-house. We get to know the inhabitants well, and the settings and the whole town of Brighton come very much alive: Griffiths does a marvellous job creating the atmosphere of the mid-50s.
The story twists and turns, and even when you think you can guess something you can be wrong…
As ever, Griffiths does the culture clash between police and theatre exceptionally well. I love the horrible terrifying ventriloquist’s dummy, and PC Bob’s horror when one of the male dancers ‘actually called him darling’. Ruby, in a fur hat and coat, visits the police station and brings ‘colour and glamour… as if someone had switched on the Christmas lights.’
This is another great entry in the series – the best so far I thought. There is considerable resolution in the private lives of the continuing characters, which I very much hope doesn’t mean an end to the series. Incidentally, these books – unlike the Ruth Galloway ones – are written in the ordinary past tense, something that I (along with many crime fiction fans) prefer.
As it happens, I love the books, but even if I didn’t I would enjoy looking for theatrical posters to illustrate them. I must have looked at (at least) a thousand theatrical pictures of one kind and another during the life of the blog, many of them memorable and beautiful. So I can say with confidence that magicians or illusionists have by far the best posters - miracles of colour, power and unsettling ambience. You can see some great ones on the blog here, here, here and here.
The poster would seem to show the magician Kellar with his own vanishing box: I actually used a different poster for the same magician for an earlier Mephisto mystery, The Zig Zag Girl.
The other picture shows Brighton in the snow.