The prologue is dramatic. A slightly unhinged magician Tim Williams is on stage at the Remember November Charity Cabaret in the local town hall, unaware of what his next trick will unleash. Tim has just finished Year Twelve, ready for a big future, when he dies in front of a roomful of people under decidedly suspicious circumstances.
Matt Tingle and Chess Febey are youthful amateur detectives. Like two high school students hungry for lunch, they embark on a serious yet magical mystery tour to unmask a murderer. The setting is Beechworth, a country town renowned for its tourist attractions rather than murder. The time is contemporary, give or take a decade for the way Chess talks, and her endearing dress sense. Matt is solid and sensible to a point, but he does get into some hazardous situations.
The opening chapter has some seriously ethereal vibes. Matt tries to concentrate on the sunshine dappled leaves as he sits in the manicured gardens of old Langton House. It’s an Open Garden, visitors stroll around the lawns talking in hushed whispers, and Matt sees a boy magician and a tough-looking man which makes him feel uncomfortable. Chess turns up with a mug of coffee and when she explains why she brought them to this place, he snaps.
Chess has accepted an invitation from Jacob Langton, the son of the owners of Langton House, to investigate the murder of his magician friend Tim, and Matt’s not keen on the idea.
The story is a classic locked-room mystery. Tim was poisoned by his own stage prop and nobody can figure out how the poison got there when it was under lock and key. Our dynamic duo investigate inside the hall, talk with colourful locals and Tim’s bereft family, and receive massive interference from a thug who roughs up Chess to warn her off. The story twists and turns with red herrings galore until the final reveal.
This is where I start to get cagey because I don’t know how much to tell you without ruining the plot.
My new favourite is young magician Paz, quite a character, who speaks with a lisp and is seemingly more mature than he looks. The Elsinore Vanish is a card trick (think Hamlet and ghosts) and Paz says ‘Magic is about the impossible. That’s what makes it beautiful’. He definitely knows something but flutters between the book’s pages refusing to be drawn into their investigation.
There are adults around but they loiter just long enough not to be annoying.
Sometimes Matt and Chess are determined, other times they have self-doubt, ultimately they are teenagers mature enough to handle the ramifications of their actions. Almost. Matt is thoughtful and his emotions are strong but he can misread people. Chess is a socially awkward analyst, prone to unusual outbursts. She has a troubled family background (there is a revealing vignette with her father) and although Matt and Chess would deny it, they are good friends.
I enjoy a clever whodunit and was frequently stumped by author Joanna’s clues; mirror reflections anyone? At times I thought there were perhaps a tad too many suspicious individuals because I had to think ‘Who was she again?’ but on the whole they were interrelated.
‘The Elsinore Vanish’ is the second book in Joanna Baker’s Beechworth trilogy set in the picturesque area of rural north-east Victoria. The settings are wonderful, like old Mayday Hills mental asylum, well, the atmosphere anyway, and they are written with such clarity that I typed Beechworth Victoria into my search engine and had a look around the historic town.
Not a crash ’em smash ’em YA story—put your thinking cap on.
Definitely a great book for those who like to think about what they read. There is one small point in the story where the ah-ha moment clicked for me and I enjoyed finding out if I was right. See if you can work it out before the dramatic reveal!
♥ Gretchen Bernet-Ward
Joanna Baker is an award-winning Australian mystery writer. Her novel Devastation Road won the Sisters-in-Crime Davitt Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was described by The Age newspaper as ‘an outstanding first novel’.
Born in Hobart Tasmania, Joanna was educated at The Friends’ School, the Australian National University and RMIT in Victoria.
Joanna sets her novels in the two places she loves: Tasmania and the high country of north eastern Victoria. She also writes and speaks about murder mysteries – why they are so enduring, and why they are not trivial.