Breaking the Circle
by M.J. Trow
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Pub Date 03 Jan 2023 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2022
‘Famous Sensitive Found Dead. Police Baffled.’
May, 1905. When one medium turns up dead, the police assume it is a robbery gone wrong, but when another is found obviously murdered, it’s clear there’s a killer on the loose!
Dr Margaret Murray, accomplished archaeologist and occasional sleuth, calls upon her police connections to investigate; who wants to see the mediums of London dead? Known for her sharp mind and quick wit, Margaret decides to infiltrate one of the spiritualist circles to narrow down the list of suspects.
Her tactics seem to be working as she accidentally puts herself in the sights of the murderer. Unperturbed, Margaret sets an elaborate trap to uncover the culprit – but can she untangle the trail of clues before she too, passes beyond the veil?
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 22 members
Dr Margaret Murray is a great main character and I enjoyed trying to solve the mystery with her. This did what I was hoping for from previous M.J. Trow books. It had a great mystery going on and I enjoyed what I read. I hope this series continues and am excited to read where M.J. Trow will go.
"It was hard in the gloom to see if Agatha Dunwoody’s eyes were showing a mad gleam or any other defining feature, but Margaret Murray was grateful that, indeed, the late Alexander was right on the money. She wouldn’t be coming back to the Bermondsey Spiritualist Circle. Not even if Hell froze over."
How far is Margaret Murray willing to go to solve a mystery? When she suspects that someone is targeting mediums, she joins a circle to try and figure out who is targeting them and why. If things don’t go well, it may very be Dr Murray who is need of a medium to share who the killer is.
This was a fabulous read and is a great book to kick off the new year! If you enjoy a solid mystery with a dash of paranormal to season it? You’re in luck! This is the book you’ve been waiting for!
The second in the entertaining series featuring Margaret Murray and her friends. Set in Edwardian London, this mystery involves the death of mediums. The writing is light and full of humour. An easy to read book with delightful characters.
Egyptologist Margaret Murray pursues a medium murderer in the second in this M.J.. Trow series.
It isn't necessary to have read book one, but all the richly described characters from the first book show up again: the police sergeant turned rich man and several other members of the force willing to collaborate with a woman in London in the early Twentieth Century.
Women trying make a not-so-honest living, the mediums have roused the rage of someone. Murray risks her life to find out who.
An entertaining, albeit light. mystery set in 1905 London. Dr Margaret Murray and her police cohorts find themselves searching for a murderer among the mediums who were so popular at the time. Lots of characters and an easy answer led me to knock off a star. Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I missed the first book but I don't think that hampered my enjoyment of this one.
This second book in the series takes place in London, 1905, with archaeologist and lecturer at University College, Dr. Margaret Murray, helping D.S. Andrew Crawford in the investigation into the murders of "sensitives" (mediums). Several of the characters from the first novel make an appearance, including retired D.I. Edmund Reid. Although (for me, at least) the characters are the highlight of this book, it is also witty, the plot moves at a good pace, and while the outcome wasn't a total surprise there were definitely unexpected twists. Looking forward to book 3!
I'm loving this series featuring Margaret Murray and a group of her students. I like how Ms Murray is written as she's a no nonsense character, very far from the image I got from her most famous books.
This is a well plotted and entertaining historical mystery. There's a solid mystery that kept me guessing, vivid and well researched historical background.
Many thanks to the publisher for this arc, all opinions are mine
While the victims of this particular murder spree may be a bit more “out there” in terms of their belief in spiritualism, Margaret Murray’s participation in the investigation isn’t quite as far-fetched here as it was in her first outing, Four Thousand Days.
In that first book it seemed like Murray and her colleagues came together to solve the mystery by a combination of friendship, happenstance and curiosity. This time, while it’s the same band of amateur and professional detectives, the investigation begins deliberately – if still a bit haphazardly. (How the band first got together may be a bit haphazard but their investigation is NOT.)
A woman is dead, having drowned in her mulligatawny soup. It could have been natural causes, but that doesn’t explain what an entire blackbird’s feather was doing in her mouth when she was found. Chicken may be a source of protein for the dish, but blackbird most definitely is not. Nor would it place a whole feather in the mouth AFTER the victim’s death.
But that victim was no one important, and the police seem to have wanted an easy solution. That she was a practicing – if quite possibly fraudulent – spirit medium made the whole thing just that much more distasteful. The inquest ruled the death as natural causes and closed the door on it.
At least until a second spirit medium turned up dead, this time poisoned with cyanide, with the Tarot card of The Hanged Man crushed in the victim’s hand.
That reopens the official case, and brings Detective Sergeant Andrew Crawford and retired Inspector Edmund Reid back to Professor Margaret Murray’s door – which has moved to the Flinders Petrie Museum at University College (now the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology) in the five years since their previous case. (That gap in time means that you don’t REALLY need to read the first book first, but if this one sounds like your jam it’s every bit as good!)
It’s looking like a serial killer is stalking psychics in London. And yes, someone does make the obvious joke that they should have seen it coming. Setting that witticism aside, Crawford has a bit of a problem. He needs an insider to learn if there were tensions among the various sensitive circles that might have led to murder. But that community skews overwhelmingly female, especially among the active participants. He needs a woman to infiltrate that community, but there were, as yet, no women in the police. (WPCs didn’t begin serving until after WW1)
And that’s where Margaret comes directly into his case, literally, posing as a psychic and getting an inside look at the circle where the first victim was a member. The police are still searching for a motive for the killings when the killer turns from poison to blunt force trauma, killing one woman by beating her to death with her own crystal ball.
Now Margaret is in the thick of it. All she’ll need to do is hatch an out-of-the-box scheme to catch the killer without putting herself into a box – or a coffin.
Escape Rating A-: What makes this series work, at least for this reader, is the voice of its protagonist Dr. Margaret Murray. Not just because she was a real person – as were both Flinders Petrie and Edmund Reid, but because she led the kind of life, had the type of career, and left behind the writing to make the adventures that her fictional avatar gets herself into seem not just plausible but even possible.
On the page she may seem like a voice from the 21st century, but there is more than enough evidence that she was a woman of her own time with the kind of history and personality that makes her easy to identify with now. She was a feminist before it was ‘cool’, and then not so cool, and then cool again, and not again and left behind the body of work to prove it.
Which makes her dry wit and trenchant observations on being a professional woman in a man’s world all that much more fascinating as well as both rueful and even funny although they all too frequently still ring true.
The mystery that Murray is in the middle of is more than a bit ‘out there’ and not just because the victims are into looking ‘behind the veil’ and other euphemisms for attempting to speak to the dead. Even if the professionals among them are mostly fleecing people by attempting to speak to the dead. Some of the practitioners and their adherents really do believe – whether we do or not.
The whole case is a fascinating puzzle, all the more so because it takes place at the dawn of modern forensics. Fingerprints are just being accepted as valid evidence, and photography of crime scenes is just beginning to come into its own.
Most of the investigation of this crime involves human factors rather than early 20th century technology, but we also see a bit of the human factors from the police perspective as well. The initial reluctance to take up the case because of the victim’s profession being a case in point.
Howsomever, it’s Margaret Murray that we follow, and she’s just fascinating in an understated and dry-witted way. She’s looking into the people, both the spiritualists and the victims, to see where there might be means, motive and opportunity for murder. That she discovers she’s been barking up the wrong tree but still manages to right herself in the end gives the mystery the twist that it needs to ramp the tension up and to bring it back down to its justified conclusion.
She’s also creating a rather eclectic group of colleagues around herself. Not just Crawford and Reid, both policemen by trade and training, but also Thomas the proprietor of the local cafe – and reformed thief, and Dr. William Flinders Petrie himself, who was her real-life mentor but is also her lover. (Whether that last bit is also history or just fictional we may never know).
But I’m reading this series for Dr. Margaret Murray. I had a fantastic time with her in Breaking the Circle – every bit as much as I did in the first book in her series, and hope that she has as long a career as an amateur detective as she did in real life!
1905 London. Mural Fazakerley, medium, has been found dead. Ruled an accidental death until another medium is discovered dead. But what could be the possible motive. D.S. Andrew Crawford with the help of ex D.I. Edmund Reid and Doctor Margaret Murray investigate.
An entertaining well-plotted and well-written Edwardian mystery. A good addition to this series with its interesting and likeable main characters.
An ARC was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
MJ Trow introduced us to the principle characters in this novel in the autumn of 2022 in Four Thousand Days That was set in 1900, and had real-life archaeologist Margaret Murray solving a series of murders, helped by a young London copper, Constable Andrew Crawford. Now, it is May 1905, Andrew Crawford is now a Sergeant, has married into a rich family, and Margaret Murray is still lecturing at University College.
When a spiritualist medium is found dead at her dinner table, slumped face down in a bowl of mulligatawny soup, the police can find nothing to suggest criminality. It is only later, when a black feather appears, having been lodged in the woman’s throat, that Andrew Crawford suspects foul play. His boss, however is having none of it.
Two more mediums go to join the actual dead whose presence they ingeniously try to recreate for their clients, and the hunt is on for a serial killer. Crawford enlists the help of Margaret Murray, and under a pseudonym, she joins the spiritualist group to which the first murder victim has belonged. After an intervention by former Detective Inspector Edmund Reid who, amazingly, manages to convince people attending a seance that he is one of Europe’s most renowned spiritualists, we have a breathtaking finale in Margaret Murray’s dusty little office in University College.
Without giving too much away, I will tease you a little, and say that the killer is trying to find something, but isn’t sure who has it. There is a pleasing circularity here, by way of Jack the Ripper. Edmund Reid was one of the senior coppers who tried to bring the Whitechapel killer to justice, and MJ Trow has written one of the better studies of that case. One of the (many) theories about the motivation of JTR was that he was seeking revenge on the woman who gave him – or someone close to him – a fatal dose of syphilis, and he was simply working his way down a list.
Trow was for many, many years a senior history teacher at a school on the Isle of Wight, and he appeared as his thinly disguised ‘self’ in the long running series of books featuring Peter ‘Mad Max’ Maxwell. I can’t think of another writer whose encyclopaedic knowledge of the past has been the steel backbone of his books. Don’t, however, make the mistake of thinking there is an overload of fact to the detriment of entertainment. Trow is a brilliantly gifted storyteller and, as far as I am concerned, Victorian and Edwardian London belong to him. Breaking The Circle is published by Severn House, and is out now
The second book in the series takes place in 1905, five years after the first. Dr Margaret Murray hears from police detective & part-time archaeology student, DS Andrew Crawford, regarding a case where a spirit medium or 'sensitive' has been found dead, drowned in her soup. The police initially think it is a robbery gone wrong, but Crawford & Murray are not convinced. The subsequent deaths of others in the same line of work suggests that either a fanatic intent on unmasking fraudulent mediums or a serial killer may be involved. Dr Murray decides to infiltrate a local spiritualist circle as Henrietta Plinlimmon & finds herself agreeing to organise & hold a séance at the family home of one of her postgraduate students. Hoping that the séance could be just the ticket to get the killer to make a mistake, Dr Murray prevails on retired Inspector Reid to help.
This book was a marked improvement on the first. Margaret Murray continues to be a most appealing main character, with DS Crawford, Reid, & Thomas (owner of the local eating establishment) making up the core of the supporting cast. The pacing is fairly gentle up until the fake séance when it turns into something reminiscent of an Ealing comedy or perhaps 'Arsenic & Old Lace'. It was highly entertaining, if fairly predictable, so if you like undemanding historical mysteries, you may enjoy this one.
My thanks to NetGalley & publishers, Severn House, for the opportunity to read an ARC.
My thanks to Severn House for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Breaking the Circle’ by M.J. Trow.
This is Book 2 in Trow’s series of historical mysteries featuring archaeologist and amateur sleuth, Dr. Margaret Murray.
What fun this was! Margaret Murray joins the ranks of historical figures engaging in fictional sleuthing. I hadn’t read Book 1 though Trow provides background to allow this to be read as a stand-alone mystery.
May, 1905 and a headline appears in the London press: ‘Famous Sensitive Found Dead. Police Baffled.’ Well of course they are baffled, it’s necessary in such mysteries so that clever amateur sleuths can solve the case.
Here the police are actually well represented by Murray’s close friend, DS Andrew Crawford of Scotland Yard. He is excited about how fingerprints being accepted as evidence is transforming police investigations. Meanwhile, Dr Murray wonders if the ancient dead can be fingerprinted.
The police assume that the first death was a robbery gone wrong, apart from the presence of a black feather in the victim’s mouth. When another medium is found obviously murdered, it’s clear that there’s a killer targeting mediums.
Dr Margaret Murray is intrigued by the case and offers her services to Crawford, suggesting that she infiltrate one of London’s prominent spiritualist circles in order to assist them in identifying likely suspects. Will her ruse work in the insular world of the spiritualists? Will she place herself in danger?
I admired how well Trow crafted this mystery. It had a great cast of supporting characters, especially Crawford and ex-inspector turned private detective, Edmund Reid. There is plenty of humorous dialogue, some quite cheeky though it retains a degree of Edwardian decorum. Oh and I must give Mrs Plinlimmon, Dr. Murray’s delightful stuffed owl, a mention.
Trow completes the novel with some details of the extraordinary life of the real Margaret Murray.
I found this an engaging mystery that kept me guessing throughout as to whodunnit. Despite its short length there is quite a lot going on and it required close attention.
I definitely will be looking forward to future cases for Dr. Murray and friends and also plan to read the first in the series, ‘Four Thousand Days’.
Breaking the Circle is the second book in the utterly enchanting Margaret Murray series by M. J. Trow. Based on the real life Margaret Murray, a turn of the century Egyptologist, the fictional Murray lectures at University College and investigates cases involving folklore and magic. Her wide ranging friendships include several policemen who act as supporting cast to her investigations, and her colleagues at the college. DS Crawford and Inspector Reid play particularly amusing roles in this case, as Murray embeds herself in a group of students of the occult investigating the murders of mediums.
The fictional Margaret Murray is a great addition to the amateur detective ranks, and I look forward to more of her adventures.
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Many thanks to NetGalley and Severn House for this Advanced Reader Copy and the opportunity to review “Breaking the Circle.” All opinions and comments are my own.
Dr. Margaret Murray, Egyptologist, university “prof” and someone who is often drafted to help the London police has her hands full in “Breaking the Circle,” the second in the historical mystery series by M.J. Trow. Our book has someone deciding that a series of London mediums and spiritualists have got to die. Unfortunately, neither Margaret nor her police colleagues ex-inspector Reid and current DS Crawford have “the sight,” so it’s going to take old-fashioned detecting to figure this one out, it appears.
The detecting is mixed in with a lot of archeological tidbits and humor. No fusty academics here; we’re supposed to assume they’re all jolly good fellows with a terrific sense of fun. Well, it does make for a change.
Margaret’s in the thick of it, of course, ferreting out secrets from the members of the “circle” that our first deceased belonged to. And dealing with an artist that’s working on her latest archeology book. Readers also get a lot of “ghostly” stories about the spirit world, which you may or may not enjoy.
But, we do get characters! Doctors, policemen, family members, suspects, of course; folks that flit in and out. Some very unpleasant types, actually. But each clearly defined with master strokes of character. M.J. Trow makes sure we “know” these people (and in some cases, their multiple viewpoints).
A séance is arranged, at which it is assumed the murderer will reveal themselves. Well, one lives in hope. Our author doesn’t intend for anything to be that easy, for eventually, Margaret finds herself in a bit of a pickle. With a murderer. But our girl is resourceful, as always.
An author’s tale reminds readers about the real Margaret Murray, a truly fascinating individual, a strong woman in a man’s world. The fictional Margaret follows in her footsteps, and “Breaking the Circle” entertains and enlightens at the same time.
"Turn-of-the-century archaeologist-sleuth Margaret Murray returns for the second in her captivating historical mystery series.
'Famous Sensitive Found Dead. Police Baffled.'
May, 1905. When one medium turns up dead, the police assume it is a robbery gone wrong, but when another is found obviously murdered, it's clear there's a killer on the loose.
Dr. Margaret Murray, accomplished archaeologist and occasional sleuth, calls upon her police connections to investigate; who wants to see the mediums of London dead? Known for her sharp mind and quick wit, Margaret decides to infiltrate one of the spiritualist circles to narrow down the list of suspects.
Her tactics seem to be working as she accidentally puts herself in the sights of the murderer. Unperturbed, Margaret sets an elaborate trap to uncover the culprit - but can she untangle the trail of clues before she too, passes beyond the veil?"
I am all about murdered mediums. I'm all about mediums in general. You're probably wondering what I'm not all about, feel free to ask me sometime!
The violent (albeit original) killings of a few mediums in London are puzzling the authorities and starting (quite understandably) to spread fear among the city's spiritual society.
But for Dr Margaret Murray, the renowned egyptologist and amateur sleuth, the only way to stop the killer to act and carry out once again another gruesome murder would be to simply infiltrate the murky world of spiritual séances, Ouija boards and crystal balls.
But when the situation starts getting a little more dangerous that she may have initially bargained for her life could already have become the killer's next target...
Breaking the circle is a witty and entertaining Edwardian murder mystery, craftily plotted and blessed with a cast of exquisitely drawn characters, sparkling dialogues and marvellous historical details.This series keeps getting better and I simply can't wait for the next installment!
Many thanks to Severn House and Netgalley for this terrific ARC
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