Death and the Conjuror is a homage to the great locked room mysteries of the Golden Age and a clever and entertaining novel in its own right. I’m hoping it’s the first in a series as I would love to see more books like this from Tom Mead.
The novel is set in London in the 1930s where the renowned psychiatrist Anselm Rees has been found dead in his study. The door is locked, there’s no sign of a murder weapon and there’s no way for the killer to have escaped without being seen. Inspector Flint of Scotland Yard is baffled by this seemingly impossible murder and calls on retired magician Joseph Spector in the hope that he can use his knowledge of illusions and deceptions to help solve the mystery.
As the detective and the magician begin their investigations, they uncover another intriguing crime – an equally impossible theft – which seems to have links to Dr Rees’ death. Could one of the psychiatrist’s patients be responsible for one or both of these crimes? And can Flint and Spector catch the culprit before another murder takes place?
As with any good mystery novel, there are plenty of suspects, an assortment of clues and lots of red herrings! Suspicion falls not only on the doctor’s own household – including his daughter and her fiancé – but also on three of his patients, celebrities who are referred to as Patients A, B and C, to protect their identities. Each patient has been seeing Dr Rees for help with a specific problem, which we learn more about as the story unfolds. The psychiatric element of the plot is fascinating and reminded me very much of Helen McCloy’s Dr Basil Willing mysteries. It came as no surprise to me, then, to learn that McCloy is one of many classic crime novelists Tom Mead has named as an influence on his writing – along with John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, Nicholas Blake and others.
I loved the idea of a magician working alongside the police; Spector has lots of specialist knowledge when it comes to the sort of tricks a murderer or a thief might use to create confusion and cover their tracks. As a locked room mystery it was very satisfying and although I didn’t manage to solve it myself, I enjoyed following the progress of the investigations and was happy for Spector to explain it all for me at the end. As a tribute to the Golden Age mystery I thought it was equally successful. I could almost have believed I really was reading a book from the 1930s, as the author seemed to have made an effort to avoid inappropriately modern language and modern sensibilities. The characters in the book even discuss and reference some of the detective novels of the time, but in such a way that the plots of those books aren’t spoiled for those of us who haven’t read them yet.
This was a great read and I will be hoping for another mystery for Joseph Spector to solve soon.
Thanks to Penzler Publishers, Mysterious Press for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.
This is book 34/50 read for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2022.