When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.
Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.
Title: Magpie Murders | Author: Anthony Horowitz | Series: Susan Ryeland #1| Publisher: Harper | Pages: 498 | ISBN: 9780062645227| Publication date: 6th June 2017| Source: Self-purchased
‘Magpie Murders’ is a near perfect British whodunnit that pays affectionate homage to the genre. It contains not one but two accomplished and entertaining mysteries, as well as a tonne of enjoyable incidental detail about publishing and the genre.
What makes the book so much fun is it’s format. It features a book within a book, ‘Magpie Murders’, by a fictional author Alan Conroy. This is an Agatha Christie-inspired affair about German detective Atticus Pünd investigating a murder in an English village in the 1950s. Around this Anthony Horowitz writes a modern day mystery with Conroy’s editor Susan Ryeland as the protagonist. To say much more than that about the plots would be to give too much away, but any fan of Christie and her imitators is in for a treat.
Horowitz is clearly an aficionado of the genre and this shines through on every page. The 50s set story is a head-scratching delight filled with enjoyable archetypes – the arrogant landowner, the troubled priest, etc. The characters in the present day story are more believable, but just as entertaining. Susan’s personal life gets a fair bit to attention, but that never detracts from the story and helps round her out.
Most importantly, the mysteries and their respective denouements both work perfectly. They’re engaging and suitably puzzling and Horowitz crams the book with clues and conundrums. When things come to a conclusion it’s a logical and satisfying one. The solutions to a couple of the strands had me grinning with pleasure at their ingenuity.
The use of an editor as the narrator for the modern story allows Horowitz to examine the whodunnit genre and dig into its tropes. This extra level of detail works brilliantly adding a lot to the book and cementing it as a book that examines the genre rather than just being of it.
If ‘Magpie Murders’ has a fault it’s that the red herrings scattered through each end up feeling a tiny bit laboured when the truth behind each of them is revealed. That’s a minor criticism though, when the ride is so much fun. If you love mysteries, you’ll love this book.