Good day, my bookish divas and divos. I hope you’re having a lovely season, no matter where you are globally, and getting some reading done. Whether you refer to an author as a scribbler, wordsmith, or writer, they are all, in essence, magicians using the written word to pull us into the stories they’ve crafted. I’m pleased to welcome Tom Mead, author of Death and the Conjuror, to the blog today. Mr. Mead will be discussing his love of magic and the role it plays in his book. I hope you’ll enjoy what he has to say and grab a copy of Death and the Conjuror for your reading pleasure. Thank you, Mr. Mead, for joining us today. I’ll now turn the blog over to you.
HEY PRESTO: MAGIC, MYSTERY & ME
By Tom Mead
I love magic. I love illusions. I love seeing how tricks are done; unravelling all the clever and seemingly inconsequential details that go into the construction and performance of a stage illusion. I often think that a mystery novel is like a magic show, with the author as a magician: when you are writing, you are trying to keep your audience looking in the wrong direction, so that they don’t spot the workings of the trick. That’s the approach I used when I was writing my book Death and the Conjuror.
And because I love magic so much, I couldn’t resist including a host of real-life illusions and gimmicks in the story, to keep readers guessing. My detective character, Joseph Spector, is a retired music hall conjuror in 1930s London. I’ve written several short stories about him, in which he solves a range of macabre and seemingly impossible crimes by applying the principles of stage magic. One of these stories, for example, is called “The Indian Rope Trick,” and in it Spector is called on to judge a competition between two magicians to judge who can perform the best version of the titular trick. When one of the magicians is murdered, things start to get a little more complicated.
My new book Death and the Conjuror is a locked-room mystery, a subgenre of crime fiction that is in itself a kind of magic trick. The acknowledged master of the genre, John Dickson Carr, was a genius when it came to misdirection, and his works like The Hollow Man and The Problem of the Green Capsule are flawless examples of literary illusion. He was also heavily influenced by the world of magic and magicians, and demonstrated a fascination with the work of Harry Houdini and- particularly- Nevil Maskelyne. Using Carr’s work as a starting point, I thought it would be interesting to look at the many other examples of classic mystery fiction that feature (or are written by) magicians.
The UK TV show Jonathan Creek was my first experience with both magic and murder mystery. Written by the brilliant David Renwick, the title character (played by Alan Davies) makes his living by devising tricks for a professional illusionist. He also frequently (and unwittingly) finds himself embroiled in all kinds of macabre mysteries which require his unique talent for explaining the inexplicable. Many of these shows (particularly the early ones) are flawless impossible crimes. Episodes such as “The Black Canary,” “The Reconstituted Corpse” and “The House of Monkeys” provide a masterclass in misdirection, eventually offering logical explanations to the seemingly uncanny occurrences. Watching this show at such a young age stimulated my fascination with magic-themed mystery, and led me to discover Carr, as well as a host of other excellent writers.
For instance, Clayton Rawson was a professional magician who also happened to write a handful of ingenious golden-age murder mysteries. These featured the suave and ingenious magician-sleuth The Great Merlini, who tackles outlandish and apparently impossible problems in The Footprints on the Ceiling, No Coffin for the Corpse, The Headless Lady, and (arguably his masterpiece) Death from a Top Hat. As the titles imply, these are colourful and fiendishly entertaining mysteries that make frequent use of real-life magic tricks and give a fascinating insight into the life of a professional conjuror. Rawson was close friends with Carr, and the two writers occasionally challenged one another to come up with a gimmick to solve an impossible problem of their own devising. For instance, a challenge was issued to see which of the two authors could commit a (fictional) murder in which the victim was found dead in a room that was not merely locked, but sealed on the inside with tape. This challenge proved fruitful for both writers, with Carr producing the excellent He Wouldn’t Kill Patience and Rawson coming up with the arguably superior gimmick in the remarkable short story “From Another World.”
Another golden age mystery writer I admire greatly is Hake Talbot. Talbot wrote only two novels, The Hangman’s Handyman and Rim of the Pit, but they are both masterpieces of the impossible crime subgenre. “Hake Talbot” was in fact a pseudonym used by the magician Henning Nelms. Under his own name, Nelms also wrote a fantastic book about the theory and practice of stage magic called Magic and Showmanship. It contains all kinds of useful insights about the psychology of audiences which I have found invaluable when writing my own mystery stories.
But the rich tradition of magic-themed mysteries did not end with the golden age. More recently, French author Paul Halter has established himself as one of the pre-eminent purveyors of locked-room mysteries and impossible crime stories in recent decades, and one of his greatest novels- The Crimson Fog– features a magician murdered during a magic trick. The novel is a brilliant and audacious piece of work; a true latter-day masterpiece of a subgenre that still has plenty to offer.
Case in point: Gigi Pandian’s latest novel (published in March 2022), the first in a new and hopefully long-running series, is called Under Lock & Skeleton Key. It’s a brilliant book that introduces a delightful amateur sleuth, Tempest Raj, a magician who has fallen on somewhat hard times and becomes embroiled in a real-life locked-room mystery. The novel is a fantastic achievement which makes me excited to see what the author comes up with for the sequel, and also what the genre produces next.
As you can imagine, when I began to write a novel featuring my own magician-detective Joseph Spector, I knew it had a lot to live up to. This was my opportunity to channel my enthusiasm for magic into a murder mystery written in the golden age style, which also pays conscious tribute to the many richly imaginative writers (past and present) that continue to inspire me. Whether or not Death and the Conjuror succeeds is not for me to say. But I can tell you that if readers have a quarter as much fun with it as I had writing it, I’ll consider it a job well done. ♦
Death and the Conjuror
by Tom Mead
June 27 – July 24, 2022 Virtual Book Tour
A magician-turned-sleuth in pre-war London solves three impossible crimes
In 1930s London, celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees is discovered dead in his locked study, and there seems to be no way that a killer could have escaped unseen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by the confounding scene, the Scotland Yard detective on the case calls on retired stage magician-turned-part-time sleuth Joseph Spector. For who better to make sense of the impossible than one who traffics in illusions?
Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. As he and the Inspector interview the colorful cast of suspects among the psychiatrist’s patients and household, they uncover no shortage of dark secrets―or motives for murder. When the investigation dovetails into that of an apparently-impossible theft, the detectives consider the possibility that the two transgressions are related. And when a second murder occurs, this time in an impenetrable elevator, they realize that the crime wave will become even more deadly unless they can catch the culprit soon.
A tribute to the classic golden-age whodunnit, when crime fiction was a battle of wits between writer and reader, Death and the Conjuror joins its macabre atmosphere, period detail, and vividly-drawn characters with a meticulously-constructed fair play puzzle. Its baffling plot will enthrall readers of mystery icons such as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, modern masters like Anthony Horowitz and Elly Griffiths, or anyone who appreciates a good mystery.
Praise for Death and the Conjuror:
“This debut, a tribute to John Dickson Carr and other Golden Age masters of the locked-room mystery, will appeal to nostalgia buffs and fans of the classics”
Library Journal, April 2022 (**STARRED REVIEW**, Debut of the Month)
“Set in London, Mead’s stellar debut and series launch, an homage to golden age crime fiction, in particular the works of John Dickson Carr, introduces magician Joseph Spector. […] Mead maintains suspense throughout, creating a creepy atmosphere en route to satisfying reveals. Puzzle mystery fans will eagerly await the sequel.”
Publishers Weekly, April 2022 (**STARRED REVIEW**)
“Mead’s debut novel is a valentine to the locked-room puzzles of John Dickson Carr, to whom it is dedicated […] Mead faithfully replicates all the loving artifice and teasing engagement of golden-age puzzlers in this superior pastiche.”
Kirkus Reviews, April 2022
Published by: Mysterious Press
Publication Date: July 12th, 2022
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN10: 1613163185 (hardcover)
ISBN13: 9781613163184 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781613163191 (eBook)
ISBN: 9781696608114 (audiobook)
ASIN: B0B1968HBQ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B09LF7LHGV (Kindle edition)
Series: Joseph Spector #1
Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: IndieBound.org | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible Audiobook | Barnes & Noble | BookDepository.com | Bookshop.org | Goodreads | The Mysterious Bookshop
Tom Mead is a UK crime fiction author specialising in locked-room mysteries. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, International Thriller Writers, and the Society of Authors. He is a prolific author of short fiction, and recently his story “Heatwave” was included in The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2021, edited by Lee Child. Death and the Conjuror is his first novel.
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