The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths

The Vanishing Box

The fourth Stephens and Mephisto mystery from the author of the bestselling Dr Ruth Galloway series - a must-read for fans of Bryant and May. 'Mixes cosiness and sharpness in a way that recalls the best of Agatha Christie' Sunday Express (on Smoke and Mirrors)What do a murdered Brighton flowerseller, the death of Cleopatra and a nude tableau show have in common? One thing'...

Title:The Vanishing Box
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The Vanishing Box Reviews

  • Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede

    I started to read Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series several years ago and I quite liked reading about an archaeologist involved in murder cases. So, when the first book in the Stephens & Mephisto Mystery was released was I curious to see how this series, set in the 50s would be. And, there is something quite pleasant and different with a crime series with a policeman and magician as "partners". Well, it's not like they work together, Max and Edgar were in the army together and now Edgar's

    I started to read Elly Griffith's Ruth Galloway series several years ago and I quite liked reading about an archaeologist involved in murder cases. So, when the first book in the Stephens & Mephisto Mystery was released was I curious to see how this series, set in the 50s would be. And, there is something quite pleasant and different with a crime series with a policeman and magician as "partners". Well, it's not like they work together, Max and Edgar were in the army together and now Edgar's work as a DI will sometimes need help from his old buddy, and btw the father of Edgar's fiance Ruby.

    This time is it the death of a young girl that starts off it all. Why would anyone want to kill an innocent and shy girl that works selling flowers in Brighton? While Edgar tries to solve the murder, are Max and Ruby performing together, but soon will Max be drawn into Edgar's world when more people get killed...

    The Vanishing Box is a pleasant book to read. Max and Edgar feel like old friends and I love the setting of the 50s England. The case is puzzling and tragic. I did find the story sometimes a bit slow, not that it was hard to focus on what was going on instead it was more like it just didn't grip me. Not even the end, when everything was revealed. Also, there is a kind of love triangle in this book and the development in this book with the three people felt a bit rushed. Still, I will definitely read the next book and see what's next for Edgar and Max.

  • Richard

    Happy Publication Day Elly Griffiths.

    The Vanishing Box, the fourth novel set in post 2nd world war Brighton, has been released upon the nation. Set just before Christmas 1953 the author has produced another crime thriller against the lucious background of musical hall and variety theatre. Despite the obvious decline of such productions here Max Mephisto & his daughter Ruby are headlining the show which is playing to full houses.

    The detective in these mysteries is DI Edgar Stephens as war ti

    Happy Publication Day Elly Griffiths.

    The Vanishing Box, the fourth novel set in post 2nd world war Brighton, has been released upon the nation. Set just before Christmas 1953 the author has produced another crime thriller against the lucious background of musical hall and variety theatre. Despite the obvious decline of such productions here Max Mephisto & his daughter Ruby are headlining the show which is playing to full houses.

    The detective in these mysteries is DI Edgar Stephens as war time associate of Max and now engaged to his new found daughter, Ruby. They have become known as the Stephens & Mephisto series, although I prefer to abbreviate to the S&M books.

    Elly has a definate love for this once popular entertainment which was strangled by the introduction of TV and cheap talking movies, coming to a cinema near you. She fully immerses the reader into the life of these travelling artists who played across the country and relied on digs for the week and made their temporary home in lodgings run for this purpose by strong landladies in the main.

    The Vanishing Box alludes to Max & Ruby's magic show and a trick they utilise fully as part of their new double act. They share the bill with the usual range of acts trying to change with the times and be spotted for a break in television.

    Closing the first half of the show is a very risque form of performance a the living tableaux act where very little concealment other than feathers and flowers prevents nudity by the young women involved from appearing naked. The audience gets an eyeful at every show but for the careful lighting and the discret props. Apparently it bacame overtly rude and lascivious if the girls moved so under the darkness of the stage before the lights went back up the troop repositioned themselves and were unable to move. It this manner the act consisted of a few historical scenes often representing femme fatales or death scenes.

    Obviously the theatre gets both a negative press in some quarters, while it's seats are filled with the interested and often lewd minded audience.

    The problems for Stephens are magnified when at a guesthouse where two of the showgirls are staying a young florist is murdered in bizare circumstances; the body almost posed for a wider audience. There seems to be a link and the detectives work round the clock to establish who committed such a vile crime, aware that they could strike again and these performers most of whom are staying in lodgings could be next.

    Elly's writing here is in these books seems more liberated than the the gentle Ruth Galloway mysteries set in modern day Norfolk; or family oriented series written in her own name, Domenica de Rosa. Although it is a throw back in time there seems to be more spice and goings on of a sexual nature. A good deal of nudity, which other than perhaps Cathbad which make Nelson for one blush.

    Not that the writing is ever seedy, gratuitous or particularly graphic. I believe Elly writes relationships so well and in tension that sexual chemistry abounds between Ruth and Nelson in her other main series. It is just here in a past generation that she seems able to allude to things more in the imagination and with an innocence that television and film portrayals, not even regarding the access to the internet and porn. That she is able to write about human interactions with a freedom and sensitivity that brings an edge and a tingle to scenes, especially when a murderer has usurped more honest relationships into something base and less worthy.

    There is also the more simplistic detective work; interviewing and obtaining statements. It makes for a pleasant read pitched after early detectives and pre computers and CSI. It is good that the DI is seen as a thinker and an innovator who likes to record crime scenes by extensive photographing.

    What makes the stories really hum and carry the reader are the great relationship the author has created, that have developed over these four instalments and promise much more if the series continues. I like the tension between the two DSs and their different motivations and desires to catch the DI's attention. Humour abounds and is needed in some dark acts and murders within; I like that details are not over stated but more reported on and that people seem less complicated.

    There is no glorifying of the villians or getting inside their heads; the motive becomes clear and as with all good crime writing the author is able to surprise and misdirect.

    Above all else, Elly is a great storyteller and whatever of her books you pick up I guarantee enjoyment and some enlightenment whether through location, historical events or dialogue. She writes to express her ideas and tell excellent stories but she cannot conceal her immense talent. I warmly recommend this novel as with all her work and wonder where you've been looking if you haven't already read one of her books. Pick one up, turn the first page you will not be disappointed.

  • Manchester Military History Society (MMHS)

    This is the fourth outing of the “Magic Men” and it's great to be back with the rich cast of characters.

    Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome as a murder takes place in a guest house used by some of the girls in the show . Max's friend from their wartime days and Ruby's fiancee DI Edgar Stephens investigates.

    Loads of strong characters here and excellent perio

    This is the fourth outing of the “Magic Men” and it's great to be back with the rich cast of characters.

    Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome as a murder takes place in a guest house used by some of the girls in the show . Max's friend from their wartime days and Ruby's fiancee DI Edgar Stephens investigates.

    Loads of strong characters here and excellent period details that provide and enjoyable and compelling British whodunit.

    Elly Griffiths continues to capture a seedy, down at heel feel of 1950's Brighton expertly creating another highly readable atmospheric crime thriller, with a great sense of time and place, but is the end of the "magic men"........? - I hope not!

    My thanks go to NetGalley and the Publisher for the chance to read an advance copy of this book.

  • Paromjit

    I really love this period crime series from Elly Griffiths featuring magician Max Mephisto and DI Edgar Stephens, close friends after serving as The Magic Men during the war. This is the fourth in the series, set in 1953. Max and his daughter, Ruby, are headlining at the Brighton Hippodrome in a variety show that features a controversial female nude tableau act run by Vic Cutler, deemed unseemly by so many and attracting considerable prurient interest. At a boarding house run by Edna and Norris,

    I really love this period crime series from Elly Griffiths featuring magician Max Mephisto and DI Edgar Stephens, close friends after serving as The Magic Men during the war. This is the fourth in the series, set in 1953. Max and his daughter, Ruby, are headlining at the Brighton Hippodrome in a variety show that features a controversial female nude tableau act run by Vic Cutler, deemed unseemly by so many and attracting considerable prurient interest. At a boarding house run by Edna and Norris, a shy and beautiful Brighton flower seller, Lily Burtenshaw, is found murdered, blindfolded and posed as Lady Jane Grey at her execution. Lily was friends with janette and Betty, members of the tableau act, also residing at the boarding house. Max finds himself drawn to the beautiful Florence Jones, another performer in the tableau, signalling the demise of his relationship with Mrs M., his landlady.

    Edgar, and his team of the bright DS Emma Holmes, in love with Edgar despite his engagement to Ruby, and DS Bob Willis, hunt for the killer and possible motives. Lily's mother, Cecily, had in the past worked as a tableau artist with Vic Cutler, her past connection with Norris and Edna, and is the reason why Lily ended up at the boarding house. Characters from previous novels make an appearance, Tol and his daughter, Astarte, tarot reader and psychic. As further murders take place, including that of another tableau player, posed as Cleopatra, DI Stephens races frantically to find the murderer before they kill again. This is a story of misdirection, an allusion of what takes place with the Vanishing Box, used by Max in his act with Ruby, and the past coming to haunt the present. DS Bob Willis finds himself being attracted to Betty and as Emma finds herself in deadly danger, it appears that at long last Edgar begins to become aware of his feelings for her.

    Elly brings 1950s Britain alive with her vivid descriptions, period detail and characters. The world of theatre variety is under threat with the growing impact of television and her portrayal of the Brighton Hippodrome and its variety show depicts this beautifully. Amidst a maelstrom of grief and loss, Max is looking for something more as his agent introduces him to a Hollywood agent looking to cast Max in a film. Ruby, having suffered a personal devastation, finds herself following the same path as Max. At long last, the ongoing misery that has afflicted Emma seems to be heading towards a happier resolution in her relationship with Edgar. I am not sure where this series will go next, but I look forward with great anticipation to the next in the series. Many thanks to Quercus for an ARC.

  • Elaine Tomasso

    I would like to thank Netgalley and Quercus Books for an advance copy of The Vanishing Box, the fourth novel in the Stephens and Mephisto series of detective novels set in 1950s Brighton.

    It's Decmber 1953 when DI Edgar Stephens and his team are called out to a murder. Lily Burtenshaw has been found strangled and posed in her boardinghouse room. Coincidentally two of Lily's fellow boarders pose naked as living statues in tableaux at the local theatre where Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are t

    I would like to thank Netgalley and Quercus Books for an advance copy of The Vanishing Box, the fourth novel in the Stephens and Mephisto series of detective novels set in 1950s Brighton.

    It's Decmber 1953 when DI Edgar Stephens and his team are called out to a murder. Lily Burtenshaw has been found strangled and posed in her boardinghouse room. Coincidentally two of Lily's fellow boarders pose naked as living statues in tableaux at the local theatre where Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are top of the bill.

    I thoroughly enjoyed The Vanishing Box with its glimpses of a bygone era, excellent characterisation and twisty plot. I'm a big fan of Ms Griiffiths's writing and this is no different. It has a welcoming tone which invites the reader to immerse themselves in another world and a well paced plot which holds the interest.

    As ever, characterisation is key in the novel, not just the main players but the minor ones as well who are equally multifaceted. Just when you think you know a character as a type they do something unexpected to confound you. The main characters, DI Edgar Stephens, DS Emma Holmes, DS Bob Willis, Max Mephisto and Ruby French are becoming like old friends as the series progresses but nothing stays the same and Ms Griffiths is ringing some changes in their relationships. It makes for good reading as the reader lives their hopes and fears with them.

    The plot is interesting and a real puzzle. The reader knows as much as the police and nothing more (so refreshing when so many novels feel the need to over inform the reader with several points of view) so the perpetrator and the motive are elusive until the end. I didn't have a clue.

    The setting seems authentic from the attitudes to the little details, like most houses not having one of the new washing machines or women wearing trousers being not quite the thing. It all adds up to a compelling snapshot of the "good old days".

    The Vanishing Box is a good read which I have no hesitation in recommending.

  • Leah

    It's a cold and snowy December in the Brighton of 1953, and magician Max Mephisto has top billing in the variety show at the Hippodrome, along with his new stage partner, his daughter Ruby. Ruby's fiancé, DI Edgar Stephens, has to put his plans to see the show on hold when a girl is found murdered in one of the many boarding houses in this seaside resort. Nineteen-year-old Lily Burtenshaw has been found strangled, with her body carefully posed to resemble a famous event from h

    It's a cold and snowy December in the Brighton of 1953, and magician Max Mephisto has top billing in the variety show at the Hippodrome, along with his new stage partner, his daughter Ruby. Ruby's fiancé, DI Edgar Stephens, has to put his plans to see the show on hold when a girl is found murdered in one of the many boarding houses in this seaside resort. Nineteen-year-old Lily Burtenshaw has been found strangled, with her body carefully posed to resemble a famous event from history. This makes Edgar think of one of the other acts at the Hippodrome – a troupe of showgirls called Living Tableaux, who appear almost naked on stage in recreations of historical or artistic scenes, their blushes covered by a few strategically placed feathers and some unobtrusive flesh-coloured pants. Artistic, young DS Bob Willis thinks – or sleazy, in the opinion of his colleague DS Emma Holmes. The first task the detectives face, then, is to see if they can find a connection between Lily and the troupe...

    After the last book in the series took us off to London and America, I was pleased that this one returned to the theatre world of Brighton. Griffiths evokes both time and place convincingly, especially the itinerant life of the performers and the boarding houses they make their temporary homes. She's very good at showing how the paths of the show people cross and re-cross as they travel round the theatres of Britain, so that relationships are always being renewed or broken as bookings dictate. She shows the contrast between the seediness of backstage life and the glamour of performance, and how some love the travelling life while others see it as a short-term thing until they find something more settled.

    In both her series, Griffiths tends to concentrate on the romantic lives of her lead characters more than is usual in police procedurals. This is something that a lot of readers particularly like about her books. Personally I don't mind a bit of romance, but I find it's often given too much prominence for my taste in Griffiths' books, although I prefer the way she's handling it in this series. But in this book, it all becomes a little too much, with every main character being in love or lust with someone, relationships starting and ending and lots of low-level romantic angst. It might actually be quite a realistic portrayal since most of the leads are youngish and single, but it gives the book a cosy-ish feel which somehow takes away from the story of the crime.

    However, the plotting is strong and the story flows well so that it held my interest all the way through. It's more of a traditional length for a crime novel, thus avoiding the dreaded sagging middle – hurrah! And all three detectives are well-drawn and likeable – I enjoyed seeing Bob getting a bigger role in this one, and I was relieved that Emma didn't spend too much of her time battling sexism (a theme with which I'm bored rigid). I did feel that Griffiths had to stretch a bit to make Max relevant to the plotting – if the series continues, it's going to get progressively harder to work him in believably each time. Much though I like him, I'm kinda hoping that the development of Emma and Bob as stronger characters might allow Max to fade out a bit, leaving this as a more traditional police-based series, focused on Edgar and his team.

    So overall, another strong entry in this enjoyable series – well researched, well plotted, well written. My criticism of the romantic angle is, I know, entirely subjective – Griffiths does it very well, and while it's a weakness for me, I'm sure it will be strength for people who enjoy that aspect more. And otherwise, I like these characters very much and love the post-war Brighton setting. I hope there's more to come...

    NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Quercus.

  • J Fearnley

    Set in 1953 in Brighton it is approaching Christmas – the lights and decorations are going up and the snow is falling. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are starring at the Hippodrome. Ruby is engaged to DI Edgar Stephens. Edgar is looking forward to seeing the show when a call comes through – a young women, Lily Burtonshaw, has been found dead, strangely posed in her room at a Hove boarding house. He and his team, Sergeants Emma Holmes and Bob Willis are on the trail of a murderer.

    As Edgar, Em

    Set in 1953 in Brighton it is approaching Christmas – the lights and decorations are going up and the snow is falling. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are starring at the Hippodrome. Ruby is engaged to DI Edgar Stephens. Edgar is looking forward to seeing the show when a call comes through – a young women, Lily Burtonshaw, has been found dead, strangely posed in her room at a Hove boarding house. He and his team, Sergeants Emma Holmes and Bob Willis are on the trail of a murderer.

    As Edgar, Emma and Bob investigate connections emerge to the artistes at the Hippodrome, two were residing at the same boarding house, and then there are more murders which appear to strengthen the links.

    Elly Griffiths evokes a wonderful picture of the 1950s and of Brighton her characters have the maturity of a fourth book in the series and are very believable, their personal hopes are part of the storyline but don’t distract from the main plot. The story line has it’s twists and turns. There are several murders and they have to be solved one way or another. This is no cozy mystery nor is this book grisly but it is a murder mystery and it is about detective work. Very well written Elly Griffiths leads you through the maze of misdirection bringing you to a tense and thrilling conclusion.

    I thought this was a terrific read and would certainly recommend it.

    With thanks to Quercus Publishing via NetGalley who provided me with an e-ARC in return for an honest opinion.

    Rating: 4*

  • Kate

    Why have I never read this series before?! I adored this.

    A review:

  • Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice*

    EXCERPT: Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens was looking at a dead body. He had seen death before, of course, in the war as well as in his police work but there was something about this corpse that made it especially disturbing. It wasn't just the stench that sent his Sargeant, Bob Willis, retching to the window. It wasn't just that the deceased was young, blonde and - even in the late stages of rigor mortis - beautiful. It was the way the body had been found. Lily Burtenshaw was kneeling on a to

    EXCERPT: Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens was looking at a dead body. He had seen death before, of course, in the war as well as in his police work but there was something about this corpse that made it especially disturbing. It wasn't just the stench that sent his Sargeant, Bob Willis, retching to the window. It wasn't just that the deceased was young, blonde and - even in the late stages of rigor mortis - beautiful. It was the way the body had been found. Lily Burtenshaw was kneeling on a towel beside her bed, a strip from a white sheet tied around her eyes and one hand stretched out towards a box in front of her. In order to keep the body in this unnatural position, the stretching hand had been tied onto a towel rail and the body roped to the back of a chair. Lily's blindfolded head dropped forward and her golden hair fell across one shoulder. She was wearing a white nightdress and her skin was also deadly white, except for the dark bruising around her neck.

    THE BLURB: What do a murdered Brighton flowerseller, the death of Cleopatra and a nude tableau show have in common? One thing's for sure - it could be the most dangerous case yet for Stephens and Mephisto

    Christmas 1953. Max Mephisto and his daughter Ruby are headlining Brighton Hippodrome, an achievement only slightly marred by the less-than-savoury support act: a tableau show of naked 'living statues'. This might appear to have nothing in common with DI Edgar Stephens' current case of the death of a quiet flowerseller, but if there's one thing the old comrades have learned it's that, in Brighton, the line between art and life - and death - is all too easily blurred...

    MY THOUGHTS: I really liked The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths. I have not previously read any of this series, only her Ruth Galloway series, which I also really liked. The fact that I had not read any of the other Stephens and Mephisto books did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of this one.

    This series has been compared to the Bryant and May series, which I have also read a number of, but so far I greatly prefer Griffiths writing.

    This is both a comfortable and engaging read, reminiscent of Agatha Christie. The setting is atmospheric, the characters engaging. There is enough romantic intrigue to make it interesting, but not enough to overwhelm the main storyline. A perfect balance.

    I look forward to more of this series.

    Thank you to Quercus via Netgalley for providing a digital copy of The Vanishing Box by Elly Griffiths for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own. Please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the 'about' page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com for an explanation of my rating system. This review and others are also published on my blog sandysbookaday.wordpress.com

  • Joanne Sheppard

    The latest book in Elly Griffiths' Stephens and Mephisto series, The Vanishing Box might actually be my favourite of the four. It combines a gripping and really rather dark murder mystery with a strong sense of period atmosphere and immensely likeable characters in whom, after four books, I now feel strongly invested.

    It's winter in 1950s Brighton and magician Max Mephisto is topping the bill at a variety theatre, supported by his daughter Ruby, a promising magician in her own right with whom Max

    The latest book in Elly Griffiths' Stephens and Mephisto series, The Vanishing Box might actually be my favourite of the four. It combines a gripping and really rather dark murder mystery with a strong sense of period atmosphere and immensely likeable characters in whom, after four books, I now feel strongly invested.

    It's winter in 1950s Brighton and magician Max Mephisto is topping the bill at a variety theatre, supported by his daughter Ruby, a promising magician in her own right with whom Max now shares a brash young agent. Also on the bill along with the usual ventriloquists, comedians and performing poodles, is a 'tableau' act in which almost naked women pose motionless to recreate famous works of art - if they don't move, they aren't breaking any obscenity laws by being topless. Most of the tableau girls are sharing digs at a boarding house also occupied by some permanent residents, including a shy young florist called Lily. When Lily is found murdered in a grotesque parody of one of the tableaux, Max's best friend (and awkwardly, son-in-law-to-be) DI Edgar Stephens is summoned to investigate along with his loyal sergeants Bob and Emma.

    The whodunnit plot that follows is an absorbing one, with numerous potential suspects and plenty of red herrings, but it's the development of the characters I enjoyed most, with one moment in particular almost bringing a tear to my eye. The previous novel in the series saw Emma Holmes fighting a bad case of unrequited love for Edgar, and this storyline continues into The Vanishing Box. Max's relationship with Ruby continues to be fascinating too - as much as he wants to be a father to her after years of being unaware of her existence, he also slightly resents sharing the limelight with her on stage and while he feels protective of her, his general tendency towards detachment makes him entertainingly objective when it comes to her faults.

    This is a tremendously atmospheric read too - you can almost feel the freezing coastal wind whipping up the snowflakes along the promenade, and the theatre scenes are gloriously evocative of variety on the cusp of decline.

    My only slight concern is that, unlike its predecessors, The Vanishing Box ends with very few unresolved character development issues, which makes me wonder if this is the last in the Stephens and Mephisto series. I hope it isn't, but if it is, it's certainly concluded on a high note.


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