“Masterful, clever, and relentlessly suspenseful, Magpie Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction in which the reader becomes the detective.”
It has been a while since I’ve read what I would consider to be a ‘traditional’ mystery. Anthony Horowitz delivers just such a book in “Magpie Murders” which is an homage to the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie.
“Magpie Murders” is a book within a book that bibliophiles, and lovers of Dame Agatha will enjoy.
The current day story features Susan Ryeland, the editor of a small London publishing house called Cloverleaf Press. They have just received the latest novel from their most popular author, Alan Conway. It is the ninth novel in his best-selling Atticus Pünd series of historical mysteries. Susan takes it home to read it over the weekend – only she is frustrated to discover that the last chapter is missing from the manuscript. From the beginning of the book we are told that her decision to read this manuscript essentially changes her life.
“Magpie Murders” is the title of this 9th installment in Alan Conway’s series and features a traditional English mystery. Set in 1955 it involves a country house murder(s), an insular Somerset village, several plausible and eccentric suspects, and a detective who is an outsider – in this case the series protagonist, Atticus Pünd. Atticus is terminally ill and this will, in all likelihood be his final case. The first murder victim was the housekeeper at a manor house named Mary Blakiston. She was considered to be a busybody by her fellow villagers. The second murder victim was the owner of the manor house, Sir Magnus Pye. He was generally disliked and the village held many possible murder suspects including his wife and his twin sister, Clarissa Pye.
“Her physique was against her too: not fat, not masculine, not dumpy, but perilously close to all three.”
As Susan read this manuscript I found myself immersed in the ‘novel within a novel’ and like her, was somewhat taken aback when it abruptly ended.
“Everyone in the village thought they knew who had killed Sir Magnus Pye. Unfortunately, no two theories were the same”.
Then, much to the chagrin of Cloverleaf Press, the author’s body is found at his country house in Suffolk. He is believed to have committed suicide. Like his fictional character, Conway had discovered he had a terminal illness and ended his life. Although they didn’t care for him personally, his loss to the publishing house would be hard felt. Susan comes to suspect that he did not commit suicide and that in fact he was murdered. Now, she has to prove it. As she tries her hand at being an amateur detective she is also searching for the missing pages of Alan Conway’s novel.
I must state up front that I truly enjoyed both stories, especially the one set in the 1950s. It was very cleverly written with several references to the work of Agatha Christie. I enjoyed the language of this classic whodunnit. I also appreciated the writing references which touched on the writing process, character naming, plagiarism, and other facets of editing and publishing.
“We need our literary heroes”
With essentially two novels contained within its pages, “Magpie Murders” is quite heavy on characters and I can understand how this could be confusing and would put some readers off because of it. Despite this, I recommend this novel due to its ingenious plotting and extremely clever writing with use of hidden codes, anagrams, and other wordplay. It was an enjoyable mystery that held my interest throughout. I had never read anything by Anthony Horowitz before, but can now understand why he is an award-winning author.
I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss. I downloaded this title in February and unfortunately I didn’t read it fast enough for them (my copy expired), so in order to fulfill my review commitment, I purchased a Kindle copy from Amazon.ca
“Magpie Murders” is my 5th book of my #20BooksOfSummer challenge
Anthony Horowitz is one of the most prolific and successful writers working in the UK – and is unique for working across so many media. Anthony is a born polymath; juggling writing books, TV series, films, plays and journalism.
Anthony was awarded an OBE for his services to literature in January 2014.