When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She's worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It's just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway...But Conway's latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder. From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the cosy crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.
The Magpie Murders is the title of crime writer Alan Conway’s latest novel. The last in a series featuring his popular private detective Atticus Pünd, a half Greek, half German immigrant who has survived the concentration camps and has settled in England after the war. The book is an English village mystery set in the 1950’s. The death of a cleaning lady leads a young woman to Pünd to ask for his help in the murder of her fiancé’s mother. Assuming it was murder, since the police files the case under fatal accident. The woman was found with a broken neck in the home of her wealthy employer. However her son was heard ushering death threats towards her which sets in motion some ugly village gossip, sowing doubt about the integrity of the young man. Pünd has to refuse, there is only so much a private detective can do when few signs point to crime. However soon there is another much more horrifying death and Pünd along with trusted sidekick James Fraser travels to the village of Saxby-On-Avon to investigate. Suspects are met and interrogated, enmities and motives for murder unearthed. Everybody has something to hide: The shady antique dealers, the village doctor and her husband an unsuccessful painter, the wealthy family occupying the manor house and even the vicar and his wife have a few skeletons in their closet.
With every chapter Atticus Pünd is getting closer to the truth. Eventually he holds all clues in hand to unravel this devilish mystery.
But wait, what kind of a detective novel is this? Frustratingly the last chapter is missing from the manuscript. A whodunit without a solution, could this be an unpleasant joke? But there are other shocks in store for Susan Ryeland: Author Alan Conway has died, he fell off the roof of his home. It seems a tragic accident, perhaps suicide, but soon Susan suspects that it was actually murder. Not only does she need to find the missing chapter, she is also looking for Conway’s killer.
So what we have here is two mysteries for the prize of one. One is a classic whodunit, the other a modern thriller. However both provide a commentary on traditional detective stories and the mystery genre in general.
Horowitz missed out on authoring the new Hercule Poirot mysteries (that task went to Sophie Hannah, who amusingly is mentioned in the book), but now he has written his own Agatha Christie novel. There is even a cameo appearance from Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard.
So, what’s not to like? - you might ask. True, it is all very cleverly put together, but it didn’t engage my heart. This sort of metafictional literature is difficult to pull off, without becoming too self-awarely clever and mechanical. I might have been entertained, but the characters, including Poirot-surrogate Atticus Pünd, left me entirely cold. But maybe this is the sort of novel which requires repeated readings to be able to gasp every facet of its elaborate construction.
For fans of classic mysteries this is still a must-read. Any Christie-fan will have fun spotting all the references to the Queen Of Crime’s work.