Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
When was the last time you stayed up all night to finish a book? For me, it was just this week when I started Magpie Murders, a compelling mystery within a mystery, and then could not put it down.
The novel begins with Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Cloverleaf Books, sitting down to read the manuscript of Magpie Murders by best selling author Alan Conway. From the outset, we know something is different about this book. She narrates:
"I opened the wine. I unscrewed the salsa. I lit a cigarette. I began to read the book
as you are about to. But before you do that, I have to warn you.
This book changed my life."
Who could stop reading after that?
We are then treated to the wonderful manuscript of Magpie Murders, a traditional mystery set in a small village in England in the 1940s. With a nod to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers and Ruth Rendell, Mr. Horowitz (or is it Alan Conway?) has written a murder mystery that is both classic and fresh. But just as Conway's detective Atticus Pünd is about to reveal the who and the how and the why of the murders, Susan Ryeland realizes that she is missing the last chapter of the manuscript. How frustrating, both for Susan and us, the readers!
Thankfully, in the next half of the novel, Susan Ryeland must become a detective herself to solve the mystery of the missing chapter, as well as another murder outside the pages of the manuscript. Unlike the current spate of psychological thrillers with unreliable narrators, this novel is a true mystery in the classic sense. The clues are there for us to piece together, if only we can recognize them. I won't reveal anything else about the plot because the pleasure comes from discovering the truth right along with Susan.
In addition to the terrific plot and wonderful cast of characters, Mr. Horowitz has peppered Magpie Murders with what gamers would call 'Easter Eggs' -- small inside jokes and clever references easily recognizable to anyone familiar with the classic mystery genre. He weaves real life characters together with his fictional ones which blur the lines between fiction and reality. (For example, the fictional Alan Conway hopes that Ben Kingsley will play Atticus Pünd in the teleplay of his novels.) Just reading the very realistic biography of Alan Conway and his accolades at the beginning of the manuscript actually prompted me to google him in case I was wrong in thinking he was a fictional character.
If the author's name seems familiar to you, it is because Anthony Horowitz has some serious writing chops. Young adults will recognize him from his popular Alex Rider series. Sherlock Homes and mystery buffs will know his best selling Moriarty and House of Silk. And for those who love the PBS show Masterpiece Mystery!, he created the immensely popular Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War. However, no matter what he has written in the past, Mr. Horowitz clearly has a love for the classic whodunnit. At one point, Susan (and presumably Mr. Horowitz) notes:
I've always loved whodunnits...I've read them for pleasure throughout my life,
gorging on them actually. You must know that feeling when it's raining outside
and the heating's on and you lose yourself, utterly, in a book. You read and
you read and you feel the pages slipping through your fingers until suddenly
there are fewer in your right hand than there are in your left and you want to
slow down but you still hurtle on towards a conclusion you can hardly bear
to discover. That is the particular power of the whodunnit...
Yes, Mr. Horowitz, I know that feeling. It kept me up until 3:00 a.m. so I could finish your book. And for those of you who love mysteries like I do, you too will adore Magpie Murders. Just don't start it before bed.
by Anthony Horowitz
496 pp. Harper (June 6, 2017)