Anthony Horowitz is a masterful storyteller and his latest foray into crime fiction is no exception, presenting the reader with not one, but two, murder mysteries to solve.
Moonflower Murders is the sequel to the bestselling Magpie Murders and follows the same format of a ‘mystery within a mystery’. Our protagonist, Susan Ryeland, is living with her partner, Andreas, in Crete where they both manage a hotel. Susan loves Andreas but is missing her old life as a book editor, where she worked on a famed series of mystery novels featuring German detective, Atticus Pund.
When Susan is contacted by a wealthy Suffolk couple, Laurence and Pauline Trehearne, about the disappearance of their daughter, Cecily, she’s instantly intrigued. On the day of Cecily’s wedding, a man was brutally murdered at the Trehearne’s luxury hotel, Branlow Hall. Just before she disappeared, Cecily was convinced the identity of the murderer was hidden inside the book she’d just read — Atticus Pund Takes the Case. With the author of the books, Alan Conway, now dead, the Trehearnes think Susan might be able to help. So Susan returns to England to investigate.
Once the cast of characters at Branlow Hall are firmly established — including Cecily’s doting husband and her prickly sister — Susan finally sits down to read Atticus Pund Takes the Case. And so do we. A mystery about a strangled actress is ‘reproduced’ in its entirety in the middle of Moonflower Murders, complete with title page and reviews. We read the same words Susan does, trying to identify the secret messages Cecily found.
Just as in Magpie Murders, the Atticus Pund ‘story-within-a-story’ features cleverly named characters who have ‘real-life’ counterparts in Susan’s storyline. With clues in the form of anagrams and other wordplay running through both narratives, the reader will be guessing and second-guessing until the very end.
Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland series of books are love letters to crime-fiction greats such as Phillip Marlowe, Wilkie Collins, and Agatha Christie, with Atticus Pund being an obvious homage to Hercule Poirot (and with characters resembling Inspector Japp and Miss Lemon in the story, too). And like these Golden Age novels, both mysteries end in a traditional denouement: a truly satisfying moment for fans of the genre.
Anthony Horowitz infuses his novels with a great sense of humour, drawing attention to the metafictional nature of his works. Susan chides herself when she hears herself asking a potential witness: “Can you tell me what happened on the night of the murder?” telling herself if she’d seen those old-fashioned and cliched words in a novel, she would have edited them out. It’s these little things that make Moonflower Murders a real hoot.
Simple storytelling, flowing prose and a craftily plotted murder mystery (or two), Moonflowers Murders provides a unique and fresh take on some of the crime fiction tropes we’ve come to know and love. You know you’re in for a treat when you’ve got a novel by Anthony Horowitz in your hands.
Moonflowers Murders is published in Australia by Penguin.
Standout Similes (there are two because I couldn’t choose my favourite):
She approached the table like a boxer climbing into the ring and even before she spoke I knew we weren’t going to get along.
Somehow it had lingered in my consciousness, almost like a flaw in an early first draft.