Category Archives: Cornell Woolrich

You Put My Life in Danger*

Most people don’t want to think that someone they know may be in danger. It’s a very unsettling feeling, if you think about it. That’s part of why it’s so tempting to dismiss that sort of threat, rather than take it seriously. ‘Maybe you’re just under stress,’ or ‘Perhaps you’re just misinterpreting something,’ or, less charitably, ‘It might be your imagination.’

Sometimes, of course, the threat of danger isn’t real, but a product of imagination, stress, or misinterpretation. But every once in a while, it’s quite real. And that possibility can add tension and plot points to a crime novel, especially if the threat turns out to be real…

For instance, in Agatha Christie’s Murder in Mesopotamia, we are introduced to Louise Leidner. She is accompanying her husband, noted archaeologist Eric Leidner, on a dig a few hours from Baghdad. And the trip isn’t easy for her. As she tells her husband, she’s been hearing odd noises, and seeing strange things out her window. She’s even begun to fear for her life. She isn’t really taken seriously, though. One of the people on the dig even refers to Louise’s fears as ‘fancies,’ and even those more kindly disposed aren’t convinced of the danger. One afternoon, Louise is tragically proved right about the danger she’s been in when she’s found murdered in her room. Hercule Poirot is in the area and is persuaded to look into the matter. He finds that this murder has much to do with the sort of person Louise was, and how that impacted others.

In Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn gets drawn into the lives of wealthy business executive Harlan Reid and his daughter, Jean. Through their housemaid, they’ve met a man named Jeremiah Tompkins, a man who, as he puts it, is cursed with being able to predict the future accurately. Since their meeting, Reid has begun meeting with Tompkins whenever he has a big decision to make. So far, all of what Tompkins has said has proven true, and now Reid believes in him utterly. Then comes a shocking prediction. Tompkins says that Reid will die on a certain night at midnight. Jean isn’t sure whether it’s going to happen or not, but her father has no doubt at all. That belief dramatically affects him, and by extension, his daughter. When Shawn meets the Reids, they’re already distraught. Shawn isn’t sure whether any of the danger is real. What’s more, he does know that there are plenty of scammers who pretend to predict things. But he feels for Jean, and he does want to protect Reid if he is, in fact, in danger. That possibility – that Reid and Tompkins are right – adds real tension to the novel.

Ellery Queen’s The Origin of Evil begins as Queen rents a home in the Hollywood Hills so that he can do some writing. His peace and quiet don’t last long, though. He gets a visit from nineteen-year-old Laurel Hill, who wants him to investigate the death of her father, Leander. He died of a heart attack, but Laurel thinks that it was deliberately induced. Before he died, he received a series of macabre ‘gifts’ that Laurel says caused his death.  What’s more, his business partner, Roger Priam, has also been receiving similar ‘gifts.’ Queen’s not inclined at first to get involved. But the puzzle does intrigue him. So, he starts to look into the matter. When he talks to Priam, though, he’s surprised to find that the man has no interest in whether anyone might be trying to kill him or might have killed his business partner. At first, he refuses to have anything to do with the investigation. Queen pushes the issue, and then there’s another attempt on Priam’s life. Now it’s clear that Laurel’s belief, and her father’s fear, were justified, and that someone has targeted both men.

Apostolos Doxiadis’ Three Little Pigs is the story of the Benvenuto ‘Ben’ Franco and his family, who emigrate from Italy to New York City at the turn of the 20th Century. Shortly after they arrive in New York, Franco gets a job at a shoe repair shop. Before long, he’s saved up enough money to open his own shoe sales and repair business, and the family prospers. Then, one night, Franco kills a man in a bar fight. To make matters worse, the victim turns out to be Luigi Lupo, son of notorious crime boss Tonio Lupo. Lupo curses the Franco family, saying that each of his sons will die at the age of forty-two, the same age Luigi was at his death. As the story goes on, we learn what happens to Franco’s three sons. And it’s interesting to see how each of them reacts to the threat of being killed.

And then there’s Shadaab Amjad Khan’s Murder in Bollywood. One night at a private party, famous Bollywood director Nikhil Kapoor makes the eerie pronouncement that one of the people at the party has killed and will kill again. Not long afterwards, Kapoor himself is killed one night while he is working at his film studio. A few hours later, his wife, noted actress Mallika Kapoor, also dies, apparently of a drug overdose. Both deaths look like terrible accidents on the surface. But Senior Inspector Hoshiyar Khan sees little pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise. At first, the other people at the party aren’t overly concerned about Kapoor’s comments. But then, there’s another death. That, plus the Kapoors’ deaths, makes everyone tragically aware that what Kappor said was true, and that they might be the next victims.

It’s very tempting to put the fear of danger aside. The alternative is a lot too unsettling for many people. But sometimes, those fears are real…


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Steel Pulse’s Said You Was an Angel.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Apostolos Doxiadis, Cornell Woolrich, Ellery Queen, Shadaab Amjad Khan

Somebody Help Me, We Gotta Stop a Crime*

preventing-murderIn many crime novels, a great deal of the suspense comes from the effort to catch the culprit(s). But there are some crime stories in which the real tension comes as the sleuth tries to prevent a crime (usually murder). That sort of story is a bit tricky to do, since it may mean a crime story in which there is no murder. And it’s a bit more difficult to keep the pace and suspense going with that sort of story. But when it’s done well, such a story can keep readers’ interest. And it allows the author some flexibility (will the murder be prevented?).

In Agatha Christie’s short story Wasps’ Nest, Hercule Poirot pays a visit to an acquaintance, John Harrison. He tells Harrison that he’s there to prevent a murder, and then brings up the subject of Claude Langton. It seems that Langton was formerly engaged to Harrison’s fiancée, Molly Deane, but Harrison claims that all is well between him and Langton. Nevertheless, Poirot insists, there is a real likelihood of murder. And it’s interesting to see the impact of Poirot’s visit.

Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes starts with an attempt to prevent a death. New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn is taking a late-night walk when he comes upon a young woman who’s about to jump off a bridge. He manages to coax her away from the bridge, and then takes her to an all-night diner, where she tells him her story. She is Jean Reid, only child of wealthy Harlan Reid. Although she lost her mother when she was only two, she’s had a more or less happy life until recently. Not long before her suicide attempt, her father met a man named Jeremiah Tompkins – a man who is cursed, as he puts it, with knowing the future. Since that time, Harlan Reid has paid regular visits to Tompkins, and every prediction he’s heard has come true. Now, Tompkins has said that on a certain night at midnight, Reid will die. Since that prediction, Reid has been a shadow of his former self, and his daughter is distraught. Shawn decides to do what he can for her and her father. Part of the plot of this novel follows the Reids and Shawn as the time for Harlan Reid’s death (at least, the time foretold by Tompkins) gets closer. It’s interesting to see how all three respond to that stress.

Elmore Leanord’s Maximum Bob tells the story of Florida judge Robert ‘Maximum Bob’ Gibbs (so named because he has a habit of giving out the harshest penalties the law allows). One day, an alligator is found on his property. It does its share of damage, but no-one’s injured. Still, the police are called in, in the form of Gary Hammond. Gibbs wants to make as little of the incident as possible, but Hammond wonders whether the animal might have been brought to the property deliberately. Then, matters get more serious: shots are fired at Gibbs’ home one night. It’s now clear that someone is trying to kill the judge, and Hammond has to start to work quickly before there’s another, perhaps successful, attempt. He’s got plenty of suspects, too. For one thing, Gibbs’ harsh justice has made him plenty of enemies. So has his wandering eye. Hammond and parole office Kathy Diaz work to find out who’s trying to kill the judge.

There’s quite a lot of suspense in Kazuhiro Kiuchi’s Shield of Straw. In that novel, SP (Special Police) Officer Kazuki Mekari of the Tokyo Municipal Police gets a new, and very difficult, assignment. A fugitive named Kunihide Kiyomaru has turned himself in to police in Fukuoka. He is guilty of the rape and murder of a young girl, Chika Ninagawa, and Mekari’s task will be to go to Fukukoa and bring Kiyomaru back to Tokyo to face justice. This isn’t going to be an easy task, though. Chika’s grandfather, who is extremely wealthy, has offered a one-billion-yen reward to anyone who kills Kiyomaru and proves that the deed has been done. Thousands of people already know about this bounty, and are planning to have their try for the money. And as the journey begins, many more learn about it. So, Mekari and his team will have to go up against many thousands of possible killers if they’re going to bring Kiyomaru back to Tokyo alive.

And then there’s Peter James’ Not Dead Yet. In that novel, Brighton and Hove Police Superintendent Roy Grace and his team are investigating the murder of a man whose torso was found in a disused chicken coop. It’s not an easy case, and matters are not helped when Grace is told that he will need to provide protection for superstar entertainer Gaia Lafayette. Originally from Brighton, she now lives in Los Angeles, where she’s become an international celebrity. She’s also become the target of a stalker who’s already made one attempt on her life. She and her entourage want to return to Brighton to do a film there, and of course, that will mean all sorts of potential revenue for the city. But it will also mean a potential security nightmare. So, Grace is told to make protecting her a priority. With the other case going on, as well as the usual police work (and some story arc events in Grace’s own life), it’s going to be a difficult assignment. And he’s up against someone who is determined to get to the star.

These are just a few examples, of course, of that plot point. And it can be very suspenseful to follow along as the protagonist tries to prevent a murder. Which examples have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Jackson Browne’s Voice of America.  


Filed under Agatha Christie, Cornell Woolrich, Elmore Leonard, Kazuhiro Kiuchi, Peter James

I Know the End is Comin’ Soon*

murder-warningsAn important part of the appeal of crime fiction is the suspense. Sometimes that comes from not knowing who the killer is, and the sleuth’s search for the truth. It might also come from a ‘cat and mouse’ sort of plot, where the killer and the sleuth face off against each other. There are other ways, too, in which the author can build suspense. Whichever way the author decides to go about it, building suspense is an important part a crime novel.

That’s why it takes skill to create a plot where we’re told at the beginning that there’s going to be a murder. It takes even more when readers are told who the victim will be. A few stories, such as Ruth Rendell’s A Judgement in Stone let the reader in on that information right away. We know from the first sentence of that novel who the killer is (a professional housekeeper named Eunice Parchman). We know who the victims are, too (members of the Coverdale family, Eunice’s employers). Even with this information having been provided, Rendell builds the tension by showing what the characters are like, how they met, and how the murders happened.

There are other ways in which authors handle that tension, too. For instance, in Georges Simenon’s The Saint-Fiacre Affair, the Paris police receive a note warning them that a crime will be committed,

‘…at the church of Saint-Fiacre during First Mass.’

For Commissaire Jules Maigret, the place has special meaning. It’s a church near Matignon, where he was born and raised. He takes an interest in the note, although his colleagues think it’s a prank, and travels to Matignon, where he attends the service mentioned in the note. Sure enough, after the Mass ends and everyone else leaves, the Countess of Saint-Fiacre is found dead. Maigret knew the victim, so it’s very difficult for him to be objective in this case. Still, he investigates, and finds out who the killer is, and why the note was sent. In this novel, part of the suspense comes from the search for answers. Part comes as Maigret faces his own past.

Nicholas Blake’s (AKA Cecil Day-Lewis) The Beast Must Die begins with the sentence,

‘I am going to kill a man.’

This comes from the journal of Frank Cairnes, a crime writer who uses the pen name Felix Lane. Cairnes/Lane plans to murder the man who killed his son Martin ‘Martie’ in a hit-and-run incident. He returns to the town he and Martie lived in at the time of the boy’s death, and starts looking for information. Soon enough, he learns that the driver was probably a man named George Rattery. After getting an ‘in’ to the Rattery household, Cairnes puts in motion his plan for revenge. But on the day’s Cairnes has chosen for the crime, Rattery dies of what turns out to be poison. Cairnes is the natural suspect, but he claims he didn’t actually commit the murder. Then, he contacts poet/PI Nigel Strangeways, and asks for his help. According to Cairnes, he planned to kill Rafferty – even tried. But his method was attempted drowning, and the plan fell through. Why, says Cairnes, would he have planned to poison the man he’d already planned to drown? It’s a complicated case, and the suspense in it comes from Strangeways’ efforts to make sense of it.

In Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, New York Homicide Bureau Detective Tom Shawn meets a young woman named Jean Reid, who’s about to jump off a bridge. He manages to talk her into getting off the bridge and going with him, and soon hears her story. As it turns out, her distress has come from the fact that her father, Harlan Reid, has been told he is going to die on a certain day at midnight. The predication came from Jeremiah Tompkins, a man who considers himself cursed with being able to see the future. Shawn takes an interest in the Reid case, and joins Jean in the effort to prevent her father’s death, if that’s possible.

There’s also Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced (You were waiting for this, right, Christie fans?). The novel begins with a personal advertisement in a local newspaper that states,

‘A murder is announced and will take place on Friday, October 29th, at Little Paddocks at 6:30pm. Friends, please accept this, the only invitation.’  

The residents of Chipping Cleghorn can’t resist the invitation, and several of them go to Little Paddocks to see what it’s all about. At the appointed time, a man bursts into the house, demanding that everyone ‘stick ‘em up.’ No-one takes it seriously – until shots are fired into the room, and the man is killed. Even though we know there’ll be a murder, Christie doesn’t make it exactly clear who the victim will be, and certainly not who the killer is. That’s part of what adds to the suspense.

The main focus of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity is a plot to murder H.S. Nirdlinger. It all starts when Nirdlinger’s insurance representative, Walter Huff, stops by the house to see about a policy renewal. Instead of his client, Huff meets Nirdlinger’s wife, Phyllis. He’s immediately smitten, and it’s not long before he and Phyllis are involved. She convinces him that, with his help, her husband can be killed, and she and Huff can be together and enjoy his insurance payout. Huff goes along with the plan and the murder is duly committed. But as fans of this novella know, that’s only the beginning of the complications in Huff’s life…

And then there’s John Grisham’s A Time to Kill. When ten-year-old Tonya Hailey is brutally raped and left to die, her father, Carl Lee, is understandably devastated and angry. There’s a lot of sympathy for him, too. Tonya’s attackers, Billy Ray Cobb and James Louis ‘Pete’ Willard are promptly arrested. The case gets the attention of Jake Brigance, an attorney whose office is just across the street from the courthouse. Out of interest, he attends the preliminary hearing for the two men, where he sees Hailey (whom he knows). Lee makes some cryptic remarks that give Brigance the idea that he intends to exact revenge on Cobb and Willard. Brigance tries to warn him not to do anything drastic, but Hailey says,

‘What would you plan, Jake?’

Sure enough, Hailey gets some help from his brother Lester, ambushes Cobb and Willard, and murders them. Then he asks Brigance to defend him. Along with several other elements, the legal and ethical issues add to the suspense of this novel. So does the fact that the stakes turn out to be a lot higher than just one man killing his daughter’s rapists.

In deft hands, even a story where we (and the sleuth) are told there’s going to be a murder can still draw us in. When it’s done well, the fact that we know what probably (or definitely) will happen can add to the tension. Which stories like this have stayed with you?


*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Creedance Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Cecil Day-Lewis, Cornell Woolrich, Georges Simenon, James M. Cain, John Grisham, Nicholas Blake, Ruth Rendell

Got Your Cable Just Today*

TelegramsMost people don’t send telegrams any more, although you certainly can if you want. With today’s wireless communication, text messaging and social media, there’s really no need. But there was a time when telegrams were the fastest way for people to communicate, especially if they lived at a distance.

From the mid-1800s until the advent of commercially available telephones, telegrams were the only way for people to communicate quickly, since letters could take days or more. And even after people got telephones, it was still easier and less expensive for a long time to send a telegram.

There are, of course, all sorts of mentions of telegrams in crime fiction. They contain information, they may serve as clues, and they prompt sleuths to take action. I’m only going to bring up a few examples. I know you’ll think of a lot more than I ever could.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Boscombe Valley Mystery begins as Dr. Watson and his wife are at the breakfast table. Watson gets a telegram from Sherlock Holmes, inviting him to join Holmes in the west of England. There’s been a murder in the Boscombe Valley, and Holmes is investigating it. Watson soon joins his friend, and the two look into the killing of Charles McCarthy. He and his son John quarreled loudly shortly before the murder, so John McCarthy is the most likely suspect. But his fiancée Alice Turner wants his name cleared. If the killer isn’t John McCarthy, though, then who is it? The only real clue is something the dying man said, but it doesn’t make sense until Holmes puts the pieces together.

A telegram plays an interesting role in Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes. Late one night, New York Homicide Bureau detective Tom Shawn is taking a walk when he sees a distraught young woman on a bridge, apparently about to jump. He manages to persuade her to come back to safety, and then takes her to an all-night diner, where she tells her story. She is Jean Reid, daughter of wealthy and successful Harlan Reid. Until recently, she’s had a reasonably good life. But everything changed after her father took a trip to San Francisco. A maid warned Jean that her father was in real danger if he took his scheduled flight back to New York, because the plane was going to crash. Jean’s not really a fanciful person, but concern for her father led her to start to send him a telegram asking him to change his travel plans. But she didn’t follow through. So when Harlan Reid returned safely, she was stunned to learn that he got a telegram. Who sent it, if not she? As Shawn soon learns, this was only the first in a strange series of incidents involving predictions made by a man named Jeremiah Tompkins, who is, as he puts it, cursed with being able to see the future. What troubles Jean especially is that Tompkins has predicted that her father will die on a certain night at midnight. Convinced that this prediction will come true, Harlan Reid has become a shell of his former self. Shawn decides to do what he can to help the family, and gets caught up in a strange case.

Several of Agatha Christie’s stories make use of telegrams. For example, in Death on the Nile, Linnet Ridgeway Doyle and her new husband, Simon, are taking a honeymoon cruise of the Nile. One afternoon, she sees that a telegram has arrived. Mistakenly thinking it’s for her, she opens it. The telegram’s actual recipient is Italian archaeologist Guido Richetti; and, when he sees that she’s read it, he’s infuriated, far out of proportion to a simple mistake like that. And when Linnet is shot later that night, that odd telegram, and Richetti’s reaction to it, come under scrutiny…

Telegrams also feature in Rex Stout’s work. For instance, in Not Quite Dead Enough, a telegram actually serves as an interesting clue. Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are investigating the supposed suicide of Captain Albert Cross. It’s a delicate matter, because there are political and security issues involved. So the Powers That Be want this case solved as quickly and as quietly as possible. The official account of Cross’ death is that he committed suicide. But as Wolfe and Goodwin trace the victim’s last days, they find out something interesting: Cross had communicated with his fiancée shortly before his death. Here’s what Wolfe says about that clue:

‘‘He sent a telegram to his fiancée in Boston that he would see her on Saturday. And then committed suicide? Pfui.’’

To Wolfe, anyway, it’s an obvious clue that this was a murder, not a suicide.

K.B. Owen’s historical series takes place at the end of the 19th Century, and features Concordia Wells, a teacher at Hartford Women’s College. During these times, telegrams are really the only way for most people to get messages quickly from one place to another. Few people have telephones, and even for those who do, they aren’t always reliable. So the majority of people use telegrams. In Unseemly Haste, for instance, Concordia is planning a train trip from Hartford to San Francisco. In part, its purpose is to ensure her safety from some unpleasant people who may have targeted her (read Unseemly Ambition for the background on that). In part it’s to give her time to make some personal decisions. It’s also got the purpose of accompanying her friend Penelope Hamilton, who is a Pinkerton’s agent with her own agenda. At first, Concordia’s mother Letitia disapproves of her daughter taking such a journey without a ‘proper chaperone.’ But then, Letitia Wells receives a telegram from her sister Estella, who lives in San Francisco. Estella’s husband Karl has gone missing, and she’s frantic. Concordia agrees to do her best to help her aunt, and with that, her mother sees her off. The train journey turns out to be much more dangerous than Concordia thinks, and it turns out to be connected with the disappearance of Concordia’s uncle.

Most people don’t send telegrams any more. But as you can see, they’ve certainly played their role, both in real life an in crime fiction. And there’s still something about a telegram…



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Five Americans’ Western Union.


Filed under Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cornell Woolrich, K.B. Owen, Rex Stout

Circus Life, Under the Big Top World*

CircusesThere’s something about a circus that can capture the imagination. The trapeze and other acts, the glittering costumes, the illusions, it’s all got something magical about it for a lot of people. At the same time, ‘circus people’ have often been seen as ‘not quite like the rest of us.’ They’re itinerant, they tend to keep to themselves, and they don’t always fit in.  And behind the scenes, the circus life is one of hard work, no real roots, and sometimes grimy, even ugly, surroundings. And yet, on the surface, the circus can look so enticing that it’s little wonder plenty of young people have dreamed of being clowns, acrobats or high-wire walkers.

It’s also little wonder we see plenty of circuses popping up in crime fiction. If you grew up reading Enid Blyton, you probably remember that circuses are a part of those children’s mystery stories. But we also see them in adult crime fiction.

For example, in Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes, New York City Homicide Bureau police officer Tom Shawn is taking a late-night walk when he encounters a young woman about to jump off a bridge. She allows him to persuade her to come with him rather than jump; he then takes her to an all-night diner where she tells him her story. She is Jean Reid, only child of wealthy Harlan Reid. Although her mother died when she was very young, she’s had a more or less happy life until recently. Her father has met Jeremiah Tompkins, who is, as he puts it, cursed with the ability to see the future. Since that time, Harlan Reid has become obsessed with knowing the future; and now, Tompkins has predicted his death. Reid’s been told he will die at midnight on a certain day, and his daughter can no longer stand to see what’s happened to him since then. Shawn tries to help the Reids as much as he can, including investigating Tompkins. After all, Reid is a rich man, and it’s quite likely that someone is trying to manipulate him for his money. If it’s not Tompkins, it may be someone else. The trail leads to an itinerant carnival – a ‘tent show,’ but by the time the police get there, the whole show has moved on.  The police track down the performers, and it’s interesting to see how the operation is portrayed in this story.

In Clayton Rawson’s The Headless Lady, a young woman calling herself Mildred Christine comes to Merlini the Magician’s magic shop. She wants to purchase a particular illusion: ‘The Headless Lady.’ Merlini is reluctant to sell it to her, since it’s his only demonstration model. But she insists, and is willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money. Merlini finally agrees on the condition that she answer a few questions. She says that if she decides to do so, she’ll come back later. Merlini and his friend Ross Harte investigate, and trace the woman to an itinerant circus. It turns out that she is a circus performer, Pauline Hannum, daughter of the circus’ late owner Major Hannum.  When it comes out that Hannum was murdered, and that the killer might not be done, Merlini and Harte get involved in a behind-the-scenes circus mystery.

Jo Nesbø’s The Bat has Oslo police inspector Harry Hole travel to Sydney, where he’s been seconded to observe the investigation into the murder of a Norwegian national, Inger Holter. In the process of looking into her murder, the police find that there’ve been other, similar murders. If they are all connected, then the police could be dealing with a very dangerous killer. Hole and his Australian hosts have to ‘join the dots’ to find out what links all the victims, and one lead takes them to a circus that’s been giving performances in several different parts of the region. One of the things that we see in this novel is the ‘fringe’ nature of a lot of circus performers. Many of them don’t mix in with ‘the rest of us.’

Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher goes undercover at Farrell’s Circus and Wild Beast Show in Blood and Circuses. In one plot thread of that novel, a few of the side show performers who travel around with the circus are concerned about some of the goings-on there. There’ve been several ‘accidents,’ including a broken tightrope, a fire, and a horse that suddenly died. The performers want Phryne to find out why the circus seems to be cursed, and who would want it to be ruined. She goes undercover as a trick rider, without access to her money, her title or her usual friends. As she finds out what’s happening at the circus, readers get a look at what circus life is like for the various performers.

Private investigator Dandelion ‘Dandy’ Gilver also investigates some nefarious circus goings-on in Catriona McPherson’s The Winter Ground. The Cooke family circus is spending the winter on the grounds of Blackcraig Estate. They’re happy for a safe place to stay, and willing to do some shows for the current owners in exchange. And Dandy’s two sons are excited that they’ll get the chance to see the circus. Then, some frightening things begin to happen, and Mrs. Cooke wants an end to it. So she asks Dandy to find out what’s behind it all. That’s when Anastacia ‘Ana,’ the bareback rider, falls from her mount and is killed. It’s set up to look like a tragic accident, but Dandy soon discovers that it isn’t accidental at all.

Elly Griffiths’ new series featuring magician Max Mephisto begins with The Zig Zag Girl. It’s 1950, and Max is on the circuit, touring with fortune-tellers, dancers, sword-swallowers and so on. He’s called in to help when the body of a woman is discovered cut up and deposited in the Left Luggage section of Brighton Station. To DI Edgar Stephans, it looks like a macabre re-enactment of an old magic trick, The Zig Zag Girl, so he asks Max to help find out who might be responsible. At first, Max is very reluctant to get involved. As he puts it,

‘I don’t like the police.’

But he agrees, and as he and Stephens investigate, readers find out about life on the performing circuit during the early 1950s.

As you can see, the circus can be an exciting place, but underneath the glitter and the show, there can be real danger. Which circus stories have stayed with you?



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Journey’s Faithfully.


Filed under Catriona McPherson, Clayton Rawson, Cornell Woolrich, Elly Griffiths, Jo Nesbø, Kerry Greenwood