I’m thinking of adding an extra category to my personal reading database for books I wanted to like more than I actually did. Being a huge fan of Elly Griffiths’ series featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway and being one of those readers always on the lookout for a standalone novel I had high hopes for THE ZIG-ZAG GIRL. Perhaps those expectations were the problem rather than the book itself. Whatever the case, as a historical mystery told in the third person from the perspective of male characters it is a very different type of story to Griffiths’ usual fare and is missing many of the elements I have enjoyed most about Griffiths’ writing.
Set in post-WWII Britain it opens with the gruesome murder of a young woman in Brighton. The circumstances of the murder remind Edgar Stephens, the Detective Inspector in charge of the case, of a magic trick invented by an old friend of his. This prompts him to seek out that friend, Max Mephisto, a magician with whom he worked during the war as part of a secret service team building illusions to fool the enemy into thinking the Allies had more resources than was actually the case. It soon becomes clear to the two men that the murder, and others which follow it, are directly linked to their wartime experiences.
Essentially what a reader has to do with fiction is accept the version of the world that the author has created. Sometimes there is a lot of disbelief to suspend, sometimes only a little. But always some. Otherwise it wouldn’t be fiction. In this case I just couldn’t do it. I never, for example, understood why a brutal murder of a young woman was left to one middle-ranking copper and his civilian friend to solve. Even today such an event would warrant more involvement from authorities than that so surely 65 years ago it would been a higher profile case than is depicted. And when Edgar and Max’s wartime experiences were told in flashback there just seemed to be too many implausibilities and inaccuracies for me to buy into it all. To top it off the secret at the heart of the story seemed blindingly – screamingly – obvious to me so there wasn’t much in the way of suspense.
The characterisations were a little more successful than the plot though somewhat flat and distant. For me it was the difference between hearing a story about a couple of people who are acquaintances of friends rather than being engrossed in a story about people I care about.The main characters are all men of roughly the same age and none of them really stand out from each other. I don’t imagine I’ll be able to remember a single thing about Edgar or Max in a couple of months.
I applaud the author for having a go at something different but it won’t be a series I follow so I hope there is something else on the horizon from Ms Griffiths. This one was just too full of awkward and unlikely coincidences for me and the reality didn’t live up to the promise of the premise.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Daniel Philpott
Publisher Quercus 
Length 8 hours 2 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series reportedly the first of a new series
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I love that category – books I wanted to like more than I actually did. I can think of a few…
Oh dear. Well, your category suggestion seems apt in this case. I’m always a little worried when an author branches out, wondering whether a fave series is coming to an end. I’ll likely try this one, in any case. I do so love this author’s Ruth Galloway series.
That is a great category, Bernadette. I’ve had my share of them, too. Sorry you felt disappointed in this one. I”m a Griffiths fan, too, and do really like her Ruth Galloway series, so I can see how you’d have been really expecting to like this. But asking for too much suspension of disbelief really is asking for a lot…
I liked this more than you did, I think, though still not to be compared with the wonderful Ruth. I’ve been thinking recently about the implicit contract the reader has with the writer, on similar lines to your views – it’s an interesting topic. (Still thinking, no brilliant conclusions)
I frequently think that high expectations ruined a book for me when I might have appreciated it more if I had come to it cold. I haven’t gotten very far in the Elly Griffiths series but in theory this one should appeal to me more… based on the setting and time period. I am sure I will try it some day.