The Zig Zag Girl is a murder mystery novel by Elly Griffiths, set in the 1950s in Brighton, England. The novel is the first in the Stephens and Mephisto Mystery series and follows the investigation of a murder that appears to be inspired by a magic trick.

Book Cover: The Zig Zag Girl

The novel opens with Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens being called to investigate the discovery of a body in three pieces that have been left in three different locations. The victim is identified as Lily Burtenshaw, a former magician’s assistant, who was the inspiration for the Zig Zag Girl trick, which involves a woman being cut into three pieces and then put back together.

As the investigation begins, Stephens is assisted by Max Mephisto, a famous magician who performed the Zig Zag Girl trick with the victim many years ago. As they delve deeper into the case, they discover that the victim’s former colleagues, including a group of magicians who served together during the war, are all suspects.

Stephens and Mephisto interview several of Lily’s former colleagues, but they are unable to determine a motive for the murder. As they continue to investigate, they discover that the victim’s life was shrouded in secrets and lies, and that she had been involved in a complex web of relationships with her former colleagues.

As the investigation progresses, Stephens and Mephisto are forced to confront their own complicated pasts and relationships. Stephens struggles with his feelings for his former lover, Emma Holmes, who is now married to his colleague, Bob Willis. Meanwhile, Mephisto is haunted by memories of his time as a soldier in the war.

As the detectives continue to investigate, they uncover a series of clues that lead them to the identity of the murderer. The murderer is revealed to be someone with a personal vendetta against Lily, and who was seeking revenge for a perceived betrayal.

The novel concludes with the killer being brought to justice, but not before Stephens and Mephisto confront their own demons and secrets. The Zig Zag Girl is a well-crafted murder mystery that combines classic detective fiction with the world of magic and illusion. It is a compelling read that will keep readers on the edge of their seats until the very end.


Katie Hoey · March 15, 2023 at 4:10 pm

The book is set in Brighton in 1950 and features Detective Inspector Edgar Stevens of the Brighton Police. When a young woman is discovered cut into three pieces Edgar is convinced the killer is mimicking a famous magic trick- The Zig Zag Girl- created by his friend and fellow soldier Max Mephisto. They had served together in WW11 as part of the Magic Men, a MI5 unit dedicated to using theatrical tricks to fool the Germans.
Max is still on the circuit of touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times means that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world and help Edgar investigate. However, Max does advise Edgar to identify the victim quickly- it takes a special sidekick to do the Zig Zag trick. These words come back to haunt Max because the dead girl was Ethel, one of his best assistants.
When another murder resembling a magic trick is discovered, the victim is a member of the Magic Men. Edgar and Max fear the killer maybe one of their old comrades but which one? and why kill now, in 1950 when the war is over?
When Edgar receives a letter warning of another trick on the way – The Wolf Trap -he knows that all the other members of their crew are all in the killers sight.
As the plot deepens the tone of the plot darkens leading to a series of surprising twists and turns.
When I first started reading the book my first thoughts were that this wasn’t my type of book – the first few pages were pretty gruesome, describing the body of the dead girl. However, I persevered and was soon really enjoying the story. It was a clever plot with its twists and turns – it made me think it was like a jigsaw puzzle with all the parts of the story coming together in a very surprising ending. I enjoyed this book so much I am now going to read more books in this series, written by Elly Griffiths.

Lynne Amos · March 15, 2023 at 7:08 pm

An early 1950’s detective novel set in Brighton at the time when variety acts were going out of style. It features a young detective and a well known magician who worked together during the war.
The two friends work together in solving a murder committed in the style of a magic act ‘ the Zig Zag Girl).
I’m a big fan of detective stories and hound this one a refreshing change and I liked the author’s style of writing, so much so that I’m now reading a further story with the same main characters

Joyce Beadnall · March 15, 2023 at 7:37 pm

I had already read The Zig Zag Girl awhile ago, an remembered enjoying it. Griffiths cleverly sets the scene, involving members of the wartime group: the Magic Men, and their current lives in entertainment. It was interesting to read about boarding house life of entertainers, including their disappointments and pressures and hopes for the future. I loved gaining insight into ‘magic’ tricks too, and the methods used to create illusions. Once I start an Elly Griffiths book, I find it difficult to put down!

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