It’s been nearly a week since I finished reading the wonderful Magpie Murders, but it wasn’t until this morning that I felt able to start writing my review. I loved it – it’s one of my books of the year, without a doubt – but I’ve spent a lot of time staring at a blank screen wondering what I could possibly say about it that would explain exactly why I loved it without spoiling things for future readers in the process. The reason I’ve found this such a difficult book to write about is because it’s a mystery novel which contains not just one mystery, but two – and part of the fun was in not only trying to solve each one, but also in discovering the connections between the two.
The novel opens with Susan Ryeland, editor for Cloverleaf Books, a small, independent publisher, settling down to read the latest manuscript from bestselling author, Alan Conway. Conway has achieved enormous success with his series of Golden-Age-style crime novels featuring the detective Atticus Pünd. Susan has never liked the author but she loves his books and has high hopes for his new one, Magpie Murders.
We are then given the privilege of reading the manuscript of Magpie Murders in – almost, but not quite – its entirety. This story-within-a-story is set in the 1950s in the little English village of Saxby-on-Avon. One of the villagers, Mary Blakiston, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in Pye Hall, where she worked as a cleaner, and Pünd has been called in to investigate. The story has everything you would expect from a classic whodunnit – plenty of red herrings, some intriguing clues, a long list of suspects all with secrets to hide, an eccentric detective and his hapless sidekick. It’s a real treat for anyone who enjoys reading Agatha Christie!
Eventually the manuscript comes to an end and we return to the present day, where a second mystery, every bit as perplexing as the one we have just been reading, is beginning to take shape. As Susan tries to draw parallels between the fictional world of Saxby-on-Avon and the private life of its creator, Alan Conway, she finds that Magpie Murders really is one of those life-changing books which, until now, she thought were just a cliché.
This is one of the most compelling mystery novels I’ve read for a long time. Both the fictional story and the ‘real life’ one had me completely gripped, trying to figure out which clues were important and which were designed to mislead us, who had a valid alibi and who didn’t…needless to say, I failed to solve either of the mysteries and fell into most of the traps that had been set for the reader. I didn’t mind, though – I was happy just to watch everything unfold as more information came to light and secrets were revealed.
There were so many other things to enjoy…the insights into the publishing world, the little puzzles and word games woven into the plot, even the chapter titles based on the One for Sorrow nursery rhyme. My only disappointment is that the rest of the Atticus Pünd mysteries referred to in the novel don’t really exist. I loved Alan Conway’s Magpie Murders so much I’m now desperate to read Atticus Pünd Investigates, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, Gin & Cyanide, and all of the others – apart from maybe Night Comes Calling, but I’m not telling you why!
This is the first of Anthony Horowitz’s adult novels I’ve read, although I do remember, as a child, reading one of his Diamond Brothers detective stories. His recent Sherlock Holmes novels The House of Silk and Moriarty didn’t appeal, but now I’m wondering if I should give them a try. Has anyone read them? And have I convinced you to read Magpie Murders? I hope so!
Thanks to Orion for providing a review copy via NetGalley