Judith Sullivan is a writer in Leeds, originally from Baltimore. She is working on a crime series set in Paris. Fluent in French, she’s pretty good with English and has conversational Italian and German. She is working to develop her Yorkshire speak.
This is a wonderfully old-fashioned murder mystery cum thriller that presents reviewers with a conundrum. If we say too much about the thriller aspects, we risk letting big old spoilers into the world. So we will go with the old-fashioned murder mystery then.
Set in 1952, Card is the most recent instalment in the adventures of friends/snoops Brighton-based DI Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto. Their friendship is further complicated by Stephens’ love affair with Mephisto’s daughter Ruby.
The adventures in Card set off with two deaths. The first victim is Brighton-based medium Doreen Barton aka Madame Zabini, whose corpse washes up near a Brighton pier. The second is a Colonel Peter Cartwright, just as dead but in a better neighbourhood (a posh flat in South Kensington). Next to his corpse Mephisto spies the Ace of Hearts blood card that gives the book its title.
Though they must attend to both cases, the two wartime buddies are both busy with other adventures. Mephisto is embarking on his first to-be-televised routine in a West End theatre. Stephens for his part is summoned to an address in Albany, NY to look into some clues that might explain the sad end of the military man.
There is a bit of an interlude as we follow Stephens to New York state and with him enjoy revelling in transatlantic travel (those were the days!), and the bigness and enthusiasm of all things American (no change there, then).
Back in the UK, the two men must deal with the Zabini and Cartwright killings while a much nastier and deadlier murder is cunningly being planned. Will they be able to stop that rampage in time is the driver to the last third of the novel.
Plots interlock and weave in and around one another. None of the strands is super strong on its own but they do make for an entertaining whole. Bu the standards of today some of the coincidences strain credulity viewed by the prism of life sixty-years back, they are much less troublesome.
Some might claim some of the story is a bit too ‘nice’, or overly pleasant. But there is an undercurrent here of the nastiness all crime fans crave. I cannot give too much away but there is skulduggery, betrayal and violence enough to slot this book elsewhere, than on the ‘cosies’ shelf.
There is also romance, and while it too comes across as slightly naïve and of its time, the to-ing and fro-ing relate directly to the protagonists’ war experience. There is wistfulness in the love strands, as there are in the bits that cover the vaudeville and magic acts. Sixty-two years ago, television was becoming ever-present and while many welcomed the little boxes, others feared the affect the idiot box would have on live shows.
Nice historical plot, well researched and a bromance that serves as a strong plot driver.