Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Two for the price of one…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

magpie-murdersSusan Ryeland, editor for Cloverleaf Books, settles down happily to read the new manuscript from their star author – Magpie Murders by Alan Conway. Susan may not like the author, but she loves his books, a series of Golden Age style mysteries starring Atticus Pund and his sidekick James Fraser. But she will find that on this occasion the mystery extends beyond the book, and murder might have leapt from the pages into real life…

This is a witty, clever take on the vintage mystery, with more than a nod to the Queen of Crime herself, Agatha Christie. It is in fact two books – the one involving Susan and “real” life, and the fictional book involving Atticus Pund and a gruesome murder in the village of Saxby-on-Avon. The format is weird and on the whole successful, and it’s certainly highly original and entertaining. After a quick introduction to Susan, the reader settles down with her to read the fictional book, which is then given in its entirety up to just before the dénouement. I must say it’s a fantastic take on a Christie murder – country house, lots of characters all with secrets and motives, a nicely unpleasant victim so we don’t have to venture into grief territory, some great clues and red herrings, an intriguing detective in the German-born Pund, and a rather charming if intellectually challenged sidekick in James. Like Christie, it gets that perfect balance between dark and light, depth and entertainment. It left me even more baffled than before as to why the Christie estate hadn’t got Horowitz to do the Poirot follow-ons – he’d have made a vastly better job of it than poor Sophie Hannah’s rather dreadful attempt.

The real life mystery is just as good and the links between the two are ingenious – some easier to spot than others. I did spot the giveaway clue in this story as it happened and so worked out the murderer fairly early on, but I was baffled by the mystery in the fictional book. Again in the “real” story there are plenty of suspects, all with good motives to have done away with the victim. (Forgive the vagueness – the plotting in this one is so intricate, and half the fun is in seeing how it works, so I’m trying hard not to give any accidental spoilers.) There are alibis to work out, connections to be made and misdirection galore. Susan is a likeable protagonist, and her love of books means there are endless references to various mystery writers – a treat for any fan of vintage mystery stories, but not at all problematic for anyone who hasn’t read widely in the genre. There are also lots of sly digs at the world of writing, publishing, book awards, etc., which add greatly to the fun. Both mysteries are fairplay, I’d say, and all the red herrings are explained in the end.

Anthony Horowitz
Anthony Horowitz

My hesitation about the format is a small one. I found that all the time I was reading the story within the story, I was conscious that another story was to come and that made me very aware that the fictional book was fictional. Normally, I can forget the fictional nature of a mystery and treat it as “real” but I found I was more distanced with this one, and I really wanted to know what was going to happen in the real section. Then, when eventually it flips to Susan’s story, I really wanted to get back to find out what happened in the final chapters of the fictional one! I found I wasn’t always totally absorbed in the bit I was reading for thinking about the other storyline. Of course, though this was the teensiest bit annoying, it also shows just how interesting both stories were.

However, when I reached the end and the two parts were each finished off beautifully satisfactorily, my minor discontent evaporated and I could wholeheartedly applaud the skill with which Horowitz had pulled the whole thing off. (Horowitz is one of very few authors who always seems to make me want to give him a standing ovation at the end for the sheer exuberance of his plotting. I imagine he must have had a whiteboard big enough to be seen from space to keep track of all the clues… ) Effectively it’s two books for the price of one – two complete mysteries, linked but separate, with different solutions but each feeding into the other. Again, as with his take on the Holmes mysteries, Horowitz has shown how effectively he can play with these much-loved, established fictional worlds, always affectionately but always with an original twist that prevents them from being mere pastiche. Great stuff, that I’m sure will be enjoyed by any mystery fan. Bravo, Mr Horowitz… encore!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Orion.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

49 thoughts on “Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

  1. Oh, this sounds terrific, FictionFan! It’s not easy to pull off a story-within-a-story, but it sounds as though Horowitz does it very well. The plot itself sounds well-done, too. Don’t tell my TBR, but I may have to add this one.

    • I really think you’d love this one, Margot! It’s a real tribute to Christie, especially the “fictional” book, which is true pastiche of her style, but without using any of her characters. You’ll have great fun spotting all the references though. And the “real” book gives it an extra layer that makes it feel completely original. Hugely enjoyable! 😀

  2. (MM am doing YOUR trick – have ‘liked’ this so it appears in the Posts I Like widget on my sidebar, but have not read it – and will come back to read what you said when I have finished the book and written my review! Am liking your 5 star appearing in my reader of a book which so f is leaving me bemoaning the fact that 5 stars are the max. At the moment, I love and ADORE it! A perfect end to a hard-working and rather stressful week. I hope Horowitz keeps the faith till the last page…

    • Haha! We need to co-ordinate our reading schedules better! I won’t say anything much for fear of spilers, but I’m gald you’re enjoying it as much as I did – definitely one for the best of the year list! One day I might even try some of his children’s books… I do wish he’d done the new Poirot books! Have fun…

  3. This sounds like a worthy one to read, even if it expands my TBR! You know how I love a good mystery, and getting two for one? Readers’ heaven! Thanks for the recommendation, FF.

  4. Now if I were a mystery reader, I’d pick this up today! The plot sounds original and full of potential plot twists. (I like the digs at publishing, too.) hmmmm…. Tempting to venture outside my comfort zone. However, you did say it may not be for those mystery newbies! I should cut my teeth on Christie, I imagine.

    • Oh, no, I think mystery newbies might enjoy it, and it might even make you want to read some of the classic mystery writers! It’s so rare to get a really well plotted actual mystery with clues and red herrings these days – it’s all police procedurals and angst instead. But one like this, where you can join in puzzling out all the alibis and motives, is so much fun…

  5. I’m about two thirds of the way through this book at the moment and absolutely loving it so far, so like Lady Fancifull, I’ll come back and read your review as soon as I’ve finished. I’m pleased to see you’ve given it five stars!

    • Ooh, I’m glad you’re loving it too! Yes, I’ve tried hard to avoid spoilers, but I always avoid reviews of books I’m reading or just about to read – don’t want other people’s opinions affecting my own till I’m done. Hope you continue to enjoy it! 😀

    • I hadn’t realised it wasn’t coming out for so long in the US – usually books come out at the same time these days, or within a couple of weeks anyway. It’ll be one to look out for when it does come out though…
      I only started reading him when he did his Holmes books, but I really must backtrack and try his children’s books some day – not my usual fare but I can imagine he’d do them really well. 🙂

    • I’ve only read his two books set in the Holmesian world and this one, and all three have been excellent. I don’t often read books for kids or teens, but I might make an exception for Horowitz and try one or two of them.

  6. Having now read, and got my review written and scheduled to appear tomorrow evening, I have returned here to say what a marvellous, spoiler free review. Like you, I don’t read other reviews of books I have already scheduled to start in the new future – even if I know the reviewer won’t be giving spoilers, its about making sure I get the relationship I’m going to have with the book as 100% mine, only then am I willing to see how someone else’s relationship went.

    And I’m pleased to say Horowitz never wavered in his glittering stardom. I’m kind of envious now of anyone ABOUT to start reading it, such a delightful journey awaits them! Brilliant to find something which is so much FUN and done so very, very, well

    • Thank you! And I look forward to reading yours! Yes, I’m the same – if the other person likes it and I don’t, or vice versa, I find myself questioning my own reaction too much. And if, as in this case, the other person agrees with my own opinion, I find myself wondering if I’ve allowed my judgement to be influenced. Ah, the life of a book reviewer is fraught with peril…

      It really is brilliantly done, isn’t it? I loved the ways the clues crossed over from on to the other, but still retained credibility… he’s AWESOME!!

    • Cruel, cruel woman! Unfortunately my reading has totally slumped again and I can’t even blame it on Moby since I’ve only read the first couple of chapters and *whispers* have quite enjoyed them… must try to get into it properly this week.

  7. Well this is FABULOUS news, that you are now an official whale lover. Perhaps, if your enthusiasm for thar she blows! really climbs, you can put your powers of persuasion to good use and get us all promoting Mr Melville. I look forward to updates.

    I blame the slump on Horowitz – a really enjoyable read is often a hard act to follow. Now if I only knew where I could source the earlier books in the Atticus Pund series from…………..

    • Admittedly nobody has started harpooning them yet – my mind could easily change! It’s quite funny in a hideously racist kinda way… see, nobody told me about the humour – or the cannibals! Both major selling points, I feel…

      Wouldn’t that be fantastic if they existed! Yes, I think it’s partly reaction to a brief run of major goodies that I kinda gulped down, plus Louis XVI (which may take me five years or so to read) plus watching too much politics – both UK and US and consequently wallowing in deep depression. I’m emigrating to Canada – their PM looks like quite a nice inoffensive young man… wanna come?

      • Well, I would, except having to switch tennis loyalties and start shouting C’mon Milos, just won’t be the same…….mind you, with everything that is going on over here it could be that all the ‘United bits of the Uk decide to disunite, if Scotland and Ireland want to be seen as European rather than little old disunited kingdom.

        I am really really hoping that the most recent Trumpisms persuade any moderately sensible Republicans that they really, really can’t have such a volatile, narcissistic Neanderthal as president. If that isn’t the case, I really will lose all hope in our species as a whole. But I will think about a job lot purchase of thermals, in case the Canadian exodus seems the best move. I believe it can get awful cold……I wonder if Hotel Chocolate exists there? And fall (you see, I’m trying out the language) is SPECTACULAR. AND maple syrup would be easily available. Are there mountain lions, and wolves as well as bears?….I’m getting quite excited!

        • Maybe we could take Andy with us! That’d teach all the leavers! I don’t know if it’s gone very quiet up here re indyref2 or if I’ve just tuned it all out – but I’m guessing the fact that we have apparently got terrible financial figures and that’s when we’re IN Europe, kinda ruins the argument that leaving would wreck our economy! It appears the SNP has managed that without help…

          Oh, I’ve given up on the US! He threatens to have Hillary shot if she wins, jailed if she loses, and brags about committing sexual assault – and still his fans think he’s wonderful! I don’t get it – Hillary’s not perfect, but at least she’s not sub-human! Apparently the east coast isn’t as bad as the west code, coldwise – and they have fab scenery over there too! We should head straight for British Columbia… I’ll tell my aunt to get the spare room ready…

  8. Absolutely LOVE Horowitz and following our chat about this the other week, I am ordering it right now and putting it right to the top of my TBR. In fact, I am going to prioritise it over my own writing and possibly even eating and sleeping 🙂 Very excited for this one! Oh, Anthony, here I come…

    • You are going to loooooooove this!! It’s fab, and soooo clever! Try not to read too many reviews – some people are giving away bits of the plot, but this is one that’s going to be much more fun if you know nothing going in. Oh, how I wish he was doing the Poirots – I may get up a petition. Do let me know what you think!

      • It is winging its way to me as we speak!! I am going to read absolutely nothing else about it, now – I don’t want anything to spoil it even slightly. I will certainly support a Poirot petition – imagine how brilliant it would be to have brand new, brilliant Poirots! He would bring back Hastings, I know it 😀

  9. I’ve never been fond of mysteries. When I was younger, I used to try to read them, but I could just never follow along. Something would happen or be mentioned that would later be explained, but I would get hung up on that spot, wanting to know exactly what it mean (yes, this makes me a terrible movie watching companion). I wonder, though, if having a book within a book would help me out because the “real” story is of someone reading the mystery and I could get her impressions…

    • I never really make a great effort to solve them – sometimes I spot the solution, but I’m quite happy to just leave it till the detective explains it all at the end. Hmm… I’m not sure if this one would help – the book within the book is presented in almost one complete block, so we don’t really get Susan’s impressions of it as we go along…

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