Now You See It by Jane Tesh
Now You See It by Jane Tesh (Poisoned Pen Press, 2013) is the third in the Grace Street Mystery series. Although I never actually lived in a commune or squat during the 1960s — I was born middle-aged and could afford a roof over my head with comfortable furniture and my own choice of people wandering in and out — this book plays with the notion that a group of people living together will either fall into Satre’s model of Hell or find themselves operating as a continuous self-help group — which may seem like Hell for those on the receiving end of the help. In this developing series, we’ve got a small group aching for therapy and living together in a big oldish house on Grace Street. In theory, the six of the seven pair off but, as in all series, the path of true love, etc. The lesser mortals are Angie and Rufus, followed up the human evolutionary scale by Camden and Ellin who have psychic powers and produce an ESP show respectively. This leaves us with David Randall who’s deep into grief because of the death of his daughter, but hankers after Kary. And Fred who’s old and should really be in a home, except the Grace Street house has become home for him.
As a private investigator working out of his bedroom, Randall gets hired by a stage magician who hid a box as part of a bet only to find it gone when he returned. Such unexpected tricks are part of the trials and tribulations encountered in the world of magic. This proves there’s always a catch — that’s the one on the inside of the box used by the client’s twin brother who was thinking of becoming an escapologist. But, for some reason, when they open that box they find the dead body of the escapologist manqué. This is odd because he should have been able to escape since he knew where the hidden catch could be found. So now David Randall has to solve a two-box problem. One apparently stolen from its secret hiding place in the magic club and the other a locked-box murder with a body that shouldn’t have been inside (unless someone put it there, of course, and not in a magical way). These box cases have to fit around the missing diamond bracelet belonging to Sandy Olaf unless, like magic, the bracelet turns up in the missing smaller box, conveniently solving two of the cases with a drumroll and single Ta Dah!
In the midst of all this investigating, there’s confusion and dismay as the new financial backer for the cable show celebrating psychic powers insists his wife takes over as the host. This is alienating everyone connected with the show. Obviously the show needs the money to survive, but the production crew value their independence more. This connects back into the world of magic because the son of the inconveniently rich sponsor is a wannabe magician who’s completely talentless but auditioned at the magic club where the body was found in its box. Now is that a coincidence, or what? Which leads to an equally coincidental and even more irrelevant memory of a faintly comic British television series called Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased) set in and around London and only occasionally showing scenes shot in Camden in which a private investigator solves crimes with supernatural help.
Without being a flat-out comedy mystery, Now You See It is a very pleasing fun read, the pages intermittently bursting into life with people talking in idiosyncratic ways or there being a wry sense of humour underlying some of the situations. Indeed, the whole plot is somewhat ironic because Camden is a genuine psychic and he helps Randall investigate a group of magicians. Of course, the solution to the three crimes is mundane, i.e. not supernatural, but there is actually a sense of magic about the way the whole thing is put together. Even the identification of the bracelet’s final resting place is nicely managed. So Jane Tesh delivers an ingenious set of puzzles to solve, explores the backstabbing world of amateur and professional magicians, and leaves a smile on your lips when the final piece of the puzzle slots into place at the end. There are also some romantic resolutions but our PI remains on the shelf for now. Hopefully, he can make further progress through the five stages of grief in the next book in the series.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.