“The Zig Zag Girl” is a period, very English, serial killer piece set mostly in post-war Brighton.
It successfully draws upon the restless nature of a generation of men trying to adjust to civilian life after serving in World War II and on the then-dying sub-culture of Variety show performers who peddled their songs and magic tricks in shabby theatres and at the end of piers for a week at a time in towns across the UK.
The people targeted by the killer all seem to have links to a wartime unit of the British Secret Service, nicknamed “The Magic Men”, which was tasked with using illusion to convince the Germans that Norway rather than Normandy might be the focus of the Allied invasion of Europe.
Stephens, the policeman investigating the killings was a young but senior member of The Magic Men, although he was not a magician. The Great Mephisto, Stephens’ best friend in The Magic Men, is still a Top-of-The-Bill performer who combines charisma and craft to deliver illusions to two audiences daily.
Both men are well drawn and their relationship is easy to believe in. Learning more about them gives pleasing insights into Post-war England’s class structure, social expectations and the changing face of entertainment.
The Magic Men are larger than life characters that add interest to the puzzle of who is trying to kill them and why. Stephens’ and Mephisto’s memories of their war service are skillfully handled and add an emotional depth to the hunt for the killer. The killer’s flamboyant methods of killing also keep things fresh.
I enjoyed the slightly introverted, mildly regretful tone of the book.tone of the book. I liked that, although this was all firmly rooted in the middle of the last century, the characters felt modern and vital. There was no faux “olden days” flavour to the people or the text. The spirit of Brighton as a slightly tatty town that gave a home to the eccentric and the seedy, making it a place of freedom in an often drab England was well captured.
This is very different from the other Elly Griffiths books I’ve read. It seemed to me that the writing was more confident and accomplished than her Dr Ruth Galloway series. Although I enjoyed “The Zig Zag Girl”, it didn’t leave me eager to read the next two books in the series. I’ll probably get around to them but I’m left with the impression that I need to be in the right mood for this series.
“The Zig Zag Girl” worked well as an audiobook. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample