REVIEW: DEATH AND THE CONJUROR, by Tom Mead

Published by head of Zeus for £20 hardback from February 2nd. Available for pre-order now. Available on Kindle now.

ISBN: 978 1804 5089 3

Over the years, there have been many writers who have specialised and really enjoyed writing locked room mysteries – Francis Iles and Agatha Christie spring to mind immediately. What does “locked room” mean? Put simply, a locked room mystery is one of those in which the victim is discovered inside a locked room – clever, huh? 

When I say locked, I mean the windows are locked and the door is locked from the inside. There is apparently no way that a criminal could’ve got inside that room to stab or shoot or throttle the victim without being locked inside with the body, and thus be still there when the body was finally discovered. 

Various authors have enjoyed creating their own locked room mysteries. I have even done so myself on occasion. For Tom Mead, who is best known for very successful short stories published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Lighthouse and The Best Crime Stories of the Year, to move to a novel involving a locked room mystery seems to have been the perfect  vehicle for his skills. His writing is deliciously clear and precise, with all the atmosphere of smoke-filled pubs and clubs.

“Death and the conjurer is set in 1936 in London. A celebrity psychiatrist is discovered dead in his locked study. There seems to be no way a killer could have escaped without being seen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by this confounding scene, inspector Flint, the Scotland Yard detective on the case, calls in a retired stage magician turned part-time, sleuth, Joseph Spector. Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye.”

This book was, put simply, a joy to read.

It has all the period feel of a book from the golden age of crime writing in the 1920s and 30s. It’s written in a delightfully straightforward but elegant manner. Tom Mead has a very light touch with his use of language and description which suit this perfectly. I particularly liked his creation of the conjurer Joseph Spector, he is a brilliant invention who should go far within number of different titles to come. However, it’s not only Spector that delights in this story Mead has created a brilliantly imagined cast of characters.

Using a psychiatrist as the victim works perfectly. His clients are, naturally, flawed individuals; each has motives and dark secrets. Each of them appears to have a reason to dislike the psychiatrist himself, but further, there’s a second mystery: this subplot involves the sudden disappearance of a very valuable painting on the same night as the murder, and there is suspicion that the two incidents are linked.

All in all this is a deeply satisfying crime story written by a brilliantly inventive and imaginative new voice on the crime circuit. It is a voice I will be following in future with any subsequent books in this series. A glorious, convoluted plot, fabulous writing, and a sumptuous cover design make this a joy to read.

Highly recommended for those who enjoy period pieces and the golden age of crime mystery. You really couldn’t ask for better.

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