From the world of classic detective fiction, Sarah Gailey’s fantastic Magic for Liars is the latest in imaginative, clever mystery novels. I mean fantastic in both senses of the word. It is brilliantly constructed, with wonderful characters and a tangled mystery. It also is set in a school for young mages and fantastical things happen while non-magical Ivy Gamble tries to figure out who is responsible for the horrific death of a beloved teacher in the middle of the library’s most dangerous books. This book is also peppered with jokes and references to the other famous school for magical youth that just delighted me.
Ivy has always felt left behind. Her sister, Tabitha, got all the magic and disappeared into the magical world as soon as she could. Ivy has had to make her way as a very mundane private investigator, working on divorce cases and insurance frauds. She never expected to be a part of her sister’s world but, one day after a surprise mugging Ivy is invited in by the headmaster of the very magical high school where Tabitha works. Everyone has a lot of faith in her (more than she has in herself) even though she has never worked a murder case before. Her curiosity about the magical world and the hefty fee lure her to Osthorne with only a little token resistance.
What follows Ivy’s invitation is a perfect blend of psychological development, high school politics (complete with mean girls and an icky teacher), and just enough magic to make everything very original. Ivy, being a “muggle,” has bitten off a lot to chew, given the clearly magical way that the victim, health teacher Sylvia, was killed. Ivy’s methods work anyway as she asks questions and manipulates the truth out of reluctant witnesses. I love how she would set up in the library with her props—photos and documents—knowing that the students’ own curiosity and need to unburden themselves of their secrets will bring the facts to her. Ivy may not credit herself for her deft knowledge of human foibles, but it turned out to be a kind of magic on its own.
I enjoyed this book so much that I inhaled it this morning. I just couldn’t stop reading this amazing book until I hit the last page—I barely stopped to pour out new cups of tea. I am definitely going to recommend this to other readers.