Friday, June 29, 2018

Review of Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Orion, 2016)

Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Cloverleaf Books, spends a weekend reading the latest instalment of Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd series set in post-war Britain. It soon becomes clear that this will be Pünd’s last case, the detective suffering from inoperable brain cancer. Given that Conway’s books are Cloverleaf’s bestselling titles, this is somewhat of an issue for the publisher. Worse though is to follow, when Conway himself is found dead. It seems that he committed suicide, though Ryeland is not convinced, herself becoming an amateur detective to solve the both Pünd’s last case and Conway’s death.

Magpie Murders presents a murder mystery inside a murder mystery. The first half of the book presents the ninth instalment of Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd series, titled ‘Magpie Murders’ as read by Susan Ryeland, a publishing editor. The second half follows Ryeland’s attempt to get to the bottom of Conway’s sudden death a few days after submitting the manuscript. While the first mystery is self-contained, the second one is intricately linked to the first, with parallels from Conway’s real life finding reference in the Pünd novel. Both mysteries, and the novel as a whole, is very much an homage to the Golden Era of English crime fiction, especially the work of Agatha Christie: Pünd is a German refugee version of Hercule Poirot and Ryeland is a modern, younger version of Miss Marple; and the narrative structure and plotting mimics tales from English rural mysteries of Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Nagio Marsh, etc., with intricate puzzles and hidden clues. In many ways, Horowitz has taken the homage to its limit, packing the novel with clever, knowing references to the era’s novels and style, lots of puzzles within puzzles, hidden puns, and the novel within a novel format. If I was judging the book for sheer inventiveness it would be a five star review. The issue, for me at least, is that neither of the two mysteries are particularly compelling in-and-of themselves. They’re both well plotted tales, with lots of suspects and red herrings, but neither particularly sparkles and the denouements of both are relatively straightforward. So, if you want a clever tale about crime fiction, with lots of intertextual references, then this novel is for you (and this was certainly what I most enjoyed about it); it may also be for you if you want a two-in-one, relatively run-of-the-mill, golden age style mysteries.

1 comment:

Yvette said...

I have this on my TBR list and for whatever reason I haven't read it yet. Thanks for the reminder.