Thursday, February 4, 2021

Magpie Murders

 Magpie Murders
(2016) by Anthony Horowitz

Susan Ryeland is given the latest manuscript by Cloverleaf Books' bestselling author, Alan Conway. Conway specializes in British mysteries in the tradition of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers--murder and mayhem in quaint little English villages. She expects Magpie Murders to be more of the same. The book is pretty much what she expected--Atticus Pünd is investigating a rather gruesome murder at Pye Hall (which has followed close on the heels of an apparent accident--but was it?). There are murders and suspects and clues and red herrings galore...but no solution. The chapters which should contain the classic wrap-up scene where the detective reveals all are simple not there. And, almost more disturbing, what is there seems to indicate that Conway is killing off his bestselling detective.

Before she and her boss Charles Clover can contact Conway to ask about the missing chapters, the author is found dead from an apparent suicide. It seems that Conway, like his detective, has been diagnosed with an inoperable cancer and has chosen to end it all before it becomes too much too bear. But the longer Susan spends with the manuscript and the more she talks with those who knew Conway, the less sure she is that he really did take his own life. There are clues hidden in the manuscript and in real-life conversations that seem to indicate a real-life story of jealousy, greed, revenge, and....murder. 

Very meta. The framing story mirrors the inner mystery in a number of ways (or vice versa)--inoperable cancer and a suicide or "suicide" to follow; messages with a portion handwritten and a portion typewritten; the author of the inner story lives in a house like that in his mystery; the author's boyfriend is the model for his detective's sidekick, and so on. We learn that Alan Conway the author of Magpie Murders (the mystery within the mystery) had a great love for anagrams, crosswords, and word puzzles of all kinds. He filled his own books with coded names from real life and based characters and incidents on real life as well. Susan has to decide how much was just Alan playing with puzzles and how much really points to the reasons behind his death.

This was fantastically put together. A great homage to classic detective novels with nods to characters and places particularly in the novels of Agatha Christie. Horowitz does an excellent job of laying out the clues and then distracting you from them--in both the inner story "written" by Conway and in the framing story about Conway's death. He actually did a much better job with the inner mystery--I didn't guess the culprit there, though I can clearly recognize the clues I missed now that I've finished. I did figure out the plot surrounding Conway's death, but the fact that it was more obvious to me didn't detract from my enjoyment. A truly fun, twisty read. ★★★★

First Lines: A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chipsand a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book. What could have been lovelier?

Last Lines: I had been the detective and now I was the murderer. And do you know? I think I liked it more.


Deaths = 10 (one drowned; two fell from height; three stabbed; one natural; three poisoned) [This includes "real life murders" in the framing story as well as murders committed on the pages of Conway's mysteries as told in the inner story.]


Rick Mills said...

Did you find it confusing at all keeping track of which story (inner or outer) you were in at the time?

Bev Hankins said...

No, I thought Horowitz did a good job keeping things separated for the reader.