Mystery of the Month – Magpie Murders

Anthony Horowitz is the author of the popular Alex Rider series and has written for film and television, such as Foyle’s War, New Blood and Midsomer Murders.

In an interview with Sophie Masson, Horowitz describes his latest novel, Magpie Murders as “both a whodunnit and an exploration into whodunnits” and attributes the inspiration for the story to Conan Doyle’s mixed feelings about Sherlock Holmes. You can read the interview here.

This description encapsulates the idea at the centre of Magpie Murders – about an author who despises the main character of the series of novels that made him famous.

A MYSTERY WITHIN A MYSTERY

Magpie Murders cleverly places one murder mystery, a traditional cozy-style mystery set in a 1950s English village (also called Magpie Murders), inside of another murder mystery, set in the present day publishing industry.

Whodunnit the First – Present Day

‘I’ve watched every episode of Poirot and Midsomer Murders on TV. I never guess the ending and I can’t wait for the moment when the detective gathers all the suspects in the room and like a magician conjuring silk scarves out of the air makes the whole thing make sense.’ – Susan Ryeland.

Cloverleaf Books editor, Susan Ryeland is reading the manuscript for the ninth and final novel of the Atticus Pund detective series – Magpie Murders. It’s a book she says “changed her life forever”.

Hugely successful, the books are about to be turned into a BBC1 television series. But just as Susan reaches a crucial point in the story, she discovers the final chapters are missing from the manuscript. Not only that, but the unthinkable has happened.

A murder writer has been murdered.

Reviled author of the series, Alan Conway has fallen to his death from the tower of his home at Abbey Grange. Despite the discovery of a suicide note penned by Alan, Susan soon comes to believe he was pushed.

Lots of people had a motive to kill Alan – his recently dumped boyfriend, Jamie, who stands to inherit everything from his death; his disgruntled ex-wife; and the CEO of Cloverleaf Books Charles Clover.

Even Susan’s boyfriend Andreas refuses to reveal the real reason why he hates Alan so much.

Susan takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to Alan and she thinks the answer might be in those missing chapters.

Whodunnit the Second – 1955

‘One can think of the truth as an eine vertiefung – a sort of deep valley which may not be visible from a distance but which will come upon you quite suddenly. There are many ways to arrive there. A line of questioning that turns out to be irrelevant still has the power to bring you nearer to your goal. There are no wasted journeys in the detection of a crime.’ – Atticus Pund

Residents of Saxby-on-Avon are quick to place blame on Robert Blakiston when his busybody mother, Mary, housekeeper to Sir Magnus Pye, tumbles down the stairs to her death. They were seen arguing before she died.

Obsessed with clearing the name of her fiancé , Joy Sanderling goes to London to seek out the services of German detective, Atticus Pund. Sadly, Pund is nearing the end of a terminal illness and tells Joy he cannot help her.

But when Pund hears that Sir Magnus has been brutally murdered at Pye Ball, he journeys to Saxby-on-Avon to assist Inspector Chubb in solving the case.

Everyone is a suspect – the vicar and his wife are furious that Sir Magnus had plans to demolish the woodland behind their home; slippery Johnny Whitehead is the prime suspect of a recent break in at Pye Hall; creepy groundsman Brent is always lurking about; and, has Magnus’ twin sister Clarissa finally discovered the family secret?

Red herrings are cunningly placed throughout the narrative but there is one deadly secret that someone does not want revealed.

Then, just as Pund is about to reveal the identity of the killer, Susan realises the end of the manuscript is missing.

A HIDDEN MESSAGE

‘Not for the first time, I got the sense that he had been trying to tell me something, that he hadn’t just written the Atticus Pünd mysteries to entertain people. He had created them for a purpose that was slowly becoming clear.’ – Susan Ryeland.

Anagrams, acrostics and allusions are aplenty in Alan’s Magpie Murders and Susan must decipher the messages he placed in his work for clues as to who killed him. She soon learns Alan named his characters very deliberately, and that their descriptions echo people in ‘real life’.

Not only that, but Susan discovers Alan was a cunning character who enjoyed ‘borrowing’ ideas from others including copying Agatha Christie’s habit of using nursery rhymes in her novels by applying ‘One for Sorrow’ to Magpie Murders.

Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Pritchard, also makes a cameo appearance in a scene where Susan interviews him after he witnesses Alan having a dispute in a restaurant – paying a nice homage to the mystery genre for which Christie is so revered.

Golden age detective fiction aficionados will appreciate the setting, characters and plot points of the 1950s mystery, but Horowitz adds another layer by offering a subtle critique of the detective genre – and he does so without going overboard into a metafictional diatribe.

Readers will be in suspense during the dramatic showdown between Susan and the killer, and the final reveal of Alan’s hidden message is a real hoot.

Anthony Horowitz has capably pulled off two complicated narratives without confusing readers. Both whodunnits are carefully plotted and leave no loose ends. Although it may not “change your life forever”, Magpie Murders is clever, entertaining and a must read for mystery fans.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is published in Australia by Hachette.


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