My first exposure to Anthony Horowitz’s novels was through the recommendation of a co-worker. He told me about a book he was reading called The Word is Murder, and although I wasn’t really into mysteries at that time, I was intrigued enough to pick it up. It’s not too much to say that that book was one of my gateways into the mystery genre. I’ve been following the series ever since (which continued with The Sentence is Death, A Line to Kill, and the upcoming The Twist of a Knife).
Magpie Murders has been on my to-read list for a while, but it’s only recently that I read it, and I’m a bit ashamed to say that it’s because of TV that I finally did so. The show Masterpiece Theater has begun running a series based on this book, and after the first couple of episodes, I had to know whodunnit.
This book is a two-for-the-price-of-one kind of book: Roughly the first half is a story about a detective named Atticus Pünd and the case involving the murder of a country gentleman, but the second half abruptly moves into the “present day” and follows the editor of the book you’ve just been reading. Susan Ryeland has realized that the novel is missing its final pages, and so she has no clue who Pünd finally names as the killer. And as everyone knows, you can’t have a whodunnit if you never find out who done it. Her quest to find the missing pages is complicated when the author dies, apparently by suicide… or was it?
Admittedly, I was a bit taken aback by the fact that the novel doesn’t interweave the stories more, but I can see where the book’s structure wouldn’t work for a TV show. Once I got past that realization, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Pünd comes across as a gentle soul, dedicated to the truth after having seen the ultimate evil in the Nazi concentration camps. Ryeland, something of an alter-ego for Pünd, is intelligent and driven, and I was able to appreciate the creative wit involved in writing a character who edits crime fiction and is trying to apply what she’s learned from that to solving an actual murder.
Horowitz is clever with his clues in both stories, so when you get to the end, you can look back and see where the author misled you while telling you exactly what you’re seeing. I didn’t see any loose ends and was able to appreciate the red herrings that are perfectly logical but which lead you in exactly the wrong direction. Some of this may be because I’m new to the mystery genre, but as far as I’m concerned, in this respect it’s a job well done.
I have to give a shout-out to the setting. Murder in fiction seems to have something quintessentially English about it, and this novel leans into this feeling by having the Pünd storyline set in a small English village in the 1950’s, and the Ryeland storyline set in a similar small village that inspired the one in the unfinished novel. We get quaint pubs, a manor house, Saxon silver hoards, a vicar, various villagers–in short, all of the trappings of the kinds of stories that make the foundation of the mystery genre. It evokes shades of Agatha Christie in the best possible way.
There’s a sequel to this book as well, called Moonflower Murders, and I think that one is getting bumped up higher in my to-read list. Well done, Mr. Horowitz! You’re keeping my interest in the mystery genre piqued.
This book was a personal purchase, and the description was nicked from Edelweiss.com.