A policeman, a magician, and a fortuneteller all take a hand in solving several murders in 1953 London.
DI Edgar Stephens and magician Max Mephisto served together in the Magic Men, a World War II special ops group. When Max gets a note from Gen. D.N. Petre asking to meet him, Edgar joins him, and both learn that Col. Cartwright, their former commanding officer, has been found stabbed to death. Certain objects in his room—newspaper clippings, a theatrical fly sheet, an upstate New York phone number, and the ace of hearts, which Max calls “the blood card”—have led Petre to fear that this was no simple robbery/murder. Suspecting a plot to disrupt the impending coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, he instructs Edgar to fly to America. While he's waiting for the paperwork to come through, Edgar gets swept back into another case he and his team had already been investigating: the death of Madame Zabini, a Romany woman who took a header off Brighton Pier. When he and DS Emma Holmes—who’s in love with him—visit the dead woman’s son, Tol, a knife thrower–turned-chef, they're shown a note linking Madame Zabini's death to the Magic Men and discover a connection to Cartwright's death, too. Arriving in Albany a few days later, Edgar discovers that the man he planned to interview has just been killed in a hit-and-run accident. Narrowly escaping the same fate, Edgar picks up a few clues to a mysterious anarchist group. Max, meantime, tries to hunt down former Magic Men members mentioned in the fly sheet and discovers that many are dead. Edgar’s fiancee, Max’s daughter Ruby, an aspiring magician, is thrilled when she’s hired along with the more ambivalent Max for a post-coronation TV show that will be seen by millions. As Coronation Day approaches, the sleuths wonder whether all these mysteries are tied to the Magic Men’s past.
In the third case for the Magic Men (Smoke and Mirrors, 2016, etc.), half the fun is the journey through postwar England to the surprising denouement.