Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Interview: Tom Mead, Death and the Conjuror

“Tom Mead has created an intriguing set of puzzles on par with John Dickson Carr in Death and the Conjuror. A true delight for mystery lovers!”

–-Charles Todd, New York Times bestseller of A Game of Fear and 23 additional titles in the Inspector Rutledge series

Greetings, Tom! Glad to have you here!

  • When did you know you wanted to be an author?

To be honest, it’s something that’s always been in my mind over the years, even when I was working other jobs. And I’ve always wanted to write mysteries because that’s what I love to read. I want to give readers that same feeling of delight and excitement I get when I’m reaching the end of a really good mystery and things are finally beginning to fall into place. What appealed to me from a very young age was the fair-play aspect of classic mysteries; the way you as the reader have all the same clues as the characters, but the author has orchestrated the plot so carefully that you still can’t crack the puzzle. The best writers, like Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, are so adept at hiding the clues in plain sight, so that you can go back through their works and think to yourself, “Of COURSE, why didn’t I spot that?” To me, that’s what makes the solution so satisfying. That’s the sensation I’m trying to give to readers. 

  • Which part of the research did you enjoy the most?

My research for this book was twofold: first, I focused on the period (the 1930s), and second I focused on the magic. The ‘30s was a natural choice, since that decade was the heart of the Golden Age of Detective fiction (GAD). If I had to define Death and the Conjuror in terms of genre, I would call it neo-GAD, as it’s a conscious tribute to the golden age while also hopefully providing readers with something fresh and entertaining in its own right. So the period setting was essential, and it enabled me to explore the history, fashions, ideas and culture of London during that fascinating decade. In addition, I’ve read tons of books about the practice and theory of stage magic, including the psychology of misdirection. I think these subjects are very relevant to the field of mystery fiction. I’ve said before that a murder mystery plot is like a magic show, and that’s the approach I use when I’m writing. Part of the fun for the artist in both instances is making sure the audience is looking in the wrong direction. So learning about the history and the code of magicians has been an absolute joy, and I plan to continue this in future Spector mysteries, exploring the character and his world in much greater depth.   

  • What inspired you to create Joseph Spector?

Some of my favourite fictional detectives are Hercule Poirot, John Dickson Carr’s Dr. Gideon Fell, and Ellery Queen; one thing all of these characters have in common is an element of eccentricity, coupled with a well-defined personality that really leaps off the page. When they show up in the story, you as the reader know that everything is going to be ok. And there’s a kind of bond of trust between the reader and the fictional detective. You need to know they are sharing all the clues with you as they find them. I’ve tried to channel all of these elements into the character of Joseph Spector. I originally created him for a series of short stories (which I plan to continue writing), where he served as a natural counterpoint to the puzzle plots. Joseph Spector is an amateur detective with a talent for solving apparently impossible problems. He’s a retired music hall magician because I’m fascinated by magic, he’s a student of logic because he comes up against problems which are apparently illogical, and he’s fascinated by macabre, spooky things because those things fascinate me too. 

  • What would you define as literary success?

To be honest, the reception Death and the Conjuror has received so far has already exceeded my wildest expectations. The fact that it’s finally seeing the light of day after years of languishing on my desktop as a long-term “secret project” is a real thrill. It’s nice to know that the hours I spent on it weren’t wasted. So from my point of view, it’s already a success. But I suppose more generally speaking, I hope that readers have fun with it, that they enjoy it as a puzzle plot, but also as a fresh contribution to the genre I love. And if it prompts readers to try reading a classic novel by John Dickson Carr or Ellery Queen, then I couldn’t be happier.   

  • So, you're an author. Which authors do you enjoy reading?

I really love the classics- I’m talking Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Helen McCloy and my personal favourite, John Dickson Carr. I think any self-respecting devotee of mystery fiction owes it to themselves to read these great writers if they haven’t already. But in terms of contemporary authors, I highly recommend Gigi Pandian’s new locked-room mystery, Under Lock & Skeleton Key. It’s the first of what I hope will be a very long-running series, and like Death and the Conjuror it has a magician-sleuth tackling seemingly impossible occurrences. I love it. I would also recommend The Five False Suicides by James Scott Byrnside. Scott has been quietly turning out some of the best new mysteries on the market since 2018, and he deserves a lot more recognition. Another magnificent writer of neo-GAD mysteries is the French author Paul Halter, who is incredibly prolific and has a dazzling imagination. His latest, The Mask of the Vampire, is published by Locked Room International. Other authors I love include Martin Edwards, Elly Griffiths and Anthony Horowitz, all of whom are excellent, versatile writers with a knack for devilishly complex plots.  

Death and the Conjuror

by Tom Mead

June 27 - July 24, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


A magician-turned-sleuth in pre-war London solves three impossible crimes

In 1930s London, celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees is discovered dead in his locked study, and there seems to be no way that a killer could have escaped unseen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by the confounding scene, the Scotland Yard detective on the case calls on retired stage magician-turned-part-time sleuth Joseph Spector. For who better to make sense of the impossible than one who traffics in illusions?

Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. As he and the Inspector interview the colorful cast of suspects among the psychiatrist’s patients and household, they uncover no shortage of dark secrets―or motives for murder. When the investigation dovetails into that of an apparently-impossible theft, the detectives consider the possibility that the two transgressions are related. And when a second murder occurs, this time in an impenetrable elevator, they realize that the crime wave will become even more deadly unless they can catch the culprit soon.

A tribute to the classic golden-age whodunnit, when crime fiction was a battle of wits between writer and reader, Death and the Conjuror joins its macabre atmosphere, period detail, and vividly-drawn characters with a meticulously-constructed fair play puzzle. Its baffling plot will enthrall readers of mystery icons such as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, modern masters like Anthony Horowitz and Elly Griffiths, or anyone who appreciates a good mystery.

Praise for Death and the Conjuror:

“This debut, a tribute to John Dickson Carr and other Golden Age masters of the locked-room mystery, will appeal to nostalgia buffs and fans of the classics”

Library Journal, April 2022 (**STARRED REVIEW**, Debut of the Month)

“Set in London, Mead’s stellar debut and series launch, an homage to golden age crime fiction, in particular the works of John Dickson Carr, introduces magician Joseph Spector. […] Mead maintains suspense throughout, creating a creepy atmosphere en route to satisfying reveals. Puzzle mystery fans will eagerly await the sequel.”

Publishers Weekly, April 2022 (**STARRED REVIEW**)

“Mead’s debut novel is a valentine to the locked-room puzzles of John Dickson Carr, to whom it is dedicated […] Mead faithfully replicates all the loving artifice and teasing engagement of golden-age puzzlers in this superior pastiche.”

Kirkus Reviews, April 2022

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Mysterious Press
Publication Date: July 12th 2022
Number of Pages: 254
ISBN: 1613163193 (ISBN13: 9781613163191)
Series: Joseph Spector #1
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | The Mysterious Bookshop

Read an excerpt:

Olive already had the phone in her hand. “Two three one, Dollis Hill,” she announced. “Dr. Anselm Rees has been murdered.”

While she provided a few scant details, she looked around the room and noticed something.

“The windows are locked,” she said as she hung up the phone.

“Mm?” Della sounded startled.

“The windows. They’re locked on the inside.” To prove this, she gripped one of the handles and rattled it. It would not move, and the key protruded from the lock.


“Then how did the killer get away?”

“What do you mean?”

“He can’t have come out through the hall. I was there the whole time. And not five minutes ago—not five minutes—I can tell you that the doctor was alive and well in this room because I heard him talking on the telephone.”

Della thought about this. “It can’t be locked.” She reached out and tried the handle for herself. But the windows did not budge.

“It’s locked on the inside,” said Olive, “just like the door.”

Della turned and looked at the corpse. He had sunk down in the chair like an unmanned hand puppet.

In the far corner of the room lay the wooden trunk. Olive caught Della’s eye and nodded toward it. Della frowned incredulously. Olive shrugged, as if to say, Where else would he be?

The two women crept across the soft plush carpet toward the trunk. Olive looked at Della and held a finger to her lips. She seized the poker from the fireplace and raised it above her head. Then she gave Della a quick nod.

Della leaned forward and wrenched open the trunk.

Olive let fly a fierce war cry and swung the poker like a tennis racquet. But all she hit was empty air. The two women peered inside the trunk. It was perfectly empty.

Olive led the way to the kitchen—but not before pulling shut the study door behind her, sealing in the late Dr. Rees once again.

They both felt slightly better after a tot of brandy. No less horrified, but more prepared to deal with the practicalities of the situation.

“What I don’t understand,” Della said, “is where the killer could have gone.”

“Nowhere,” said Olive. “There was nowhere for him to go.”


Excerpt from Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead. Copyright 2022 by Tom Mead. Reproduced with permission from Tom Mead. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

Tom Mead is a UK crime fiction author specialising in locked-room mysteries. He is a member of the Crime Writers’ Association, International Thriller Writers, and the Society of Authors. He is a prolific author of short fiction, and recently his story "Heatwave" was included in THE BEST MYSTERY STORIES OF THE YEAR 2021, edited by Lee Child. DEATH AND THE CONJUROR is his first novel.

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Wall-to-wall books said...

Thanks for the great interview!

Sarah Glenn said...

You're welcome!