Book review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 Permalink

I’ve heard of Anthony Horowitz but not read any of his previous novels. In my little world, Hororwitz is equally known for his work in television, having created Foyle’s War and the never-ending long-lasting Midsomer Murders. And then there’s his newer work, New Blood, recently on ABC TV here in Australia (and enjoyed by my mum).

Interestingly he authored the James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, but if I had my way, Horowitz would be been responsible for the revitalisation of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Horowitz worked on the TV show and, though Sophie Hannah is certainly talented, I think the screenwriter (and obvious Christie-fan) has her style down pat.

Book review: Magpie Murders by Anthony HorowitzMagpie Murders
by Anthony Horowitz
Published by Orion
on October 11th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1409158365, 9781409158394
Pages: 464

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.

A bit more about the novel

The most important thing to understand about this novel is that it’s a novel within a novel.

I had an advance reader copy and initially thought the print font (of the early draft) strange… because it starts in something akin to Arial. And then I realised I was reading a ‘Forward’ from a book. Horowitz’s I assumed.

But no… it’s our book’s narrator, editor Susan Ryeland, head of fiction at Cloverleaf books. And there’s something akin to an introduction from her before the ‘About the author’ page, ‘previous novels’ page and commencement of the fictional novel, Magpie Murders by author (and Ryeland’s client) Alan Conway.

The font change makes it obvious. Once you ‘get’ what’s happening, that is. And then we’ve got 240+ pages of the novel: the latest in the series about German detective Atticus Pund.

Pund is obviously derivative of Hercule Poirot, as his offsider – James Fraser – is of Poirot’s Captain Hastings. And in the novel (within the novel) Pund – who’s just received a cancer diagnosis – is working his last case… the death of a housekeeper, shortly followed by the death of her boss.

But back to the outer novel.

Ryeland finds herself absorbed in Conway’s latest book, until she runs out of manuscript pages. Abruptly and just chapters from the end. She attempts to guess whodunnit, but figures she’ll find out soon enough, once she gets the chapters which she assumes have been misplaced.

However… life imitates art as we soon learn Conway’s also had a cancer diagnosis and is dead after falling from a tower on his property. Susan’s boss, friend and head of Cloverleaf, Charles Clover receives a suicide note of sorts, seemingly sent by Conway just before his death.

Interestingly in attempting to track down the missing chapters Susan discovers that Conway has borrowed heavily from Agatha Christie, liberated a plot idea from a student, and (not very subtly) based characters on those around him.

Susan wonders if the missing chapters have anything to do with Conway’s death and starts doubting the suicide theory as she digs deeper into his life.

My thoughts

Horowitz is a talented writer. I was completely happy with the novel within the novel and story of the housekeeper and lord of the manor. The characters were great and the plot itself fairly complex.

Readers (and Susan) are jolted out of the story quite harshly. The whole thing is clever but I have to admit I disengaged a little from that story and struggled to remember who was who when we returned to the inside story.

I suspect I was initially a bit disgruntled to be back with Susan, missing the small village and its eccentric murder suspects. But Horowitz quickly develops Susan’s character and we get a good sense of who she is as she starts to play detective herself.

Horowitz grounds the novel in the stuff he knows best, with a lot of references to television, Midsomer Murders and Sherlock (for example) as well as a myriad of authors and their work.

Readers get a two-for-one with this novel and Horowitz delivers on both counts. I drifted away a little halfway through the book, as we moved from the inner book to the outer book, and again near the end when the reverse occurred, but Horowitz is a talented writer… and certainly a little under-appreciated – here in Australia, anyway.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

Are you a Midsomer Murders fan? And what about the story within the story thing…?

  • Stormi D Johnson
    October 12, 2016

    Oh wow, I didn’t know he is the one who done Foyle’s War and Midsummer Murders (two of my favorite shows on Netflix!) I am going to have to grab up some of his books now. 🙂 This one sounds different and I am curious how the novel in a novel would play out. 🙂 Great review.

    • Debbish
      October 12, 2016

      As I said Stormi, I knew Horowitz had published novels but had heard more about his tv work. I hope you get to read this one.

  • Katherine @ I Wish I Lived in a Library
    October 13, 2016

    Well this is a book I need! I like the comparison to Christie and that Horowitz is connected to so many great shows. The two in one thing might be a bit confusing but I think knowing what’s happening going in will make it easier. Great review!

    • Debbish
      October 14, 2016

      Yes… I opened the book not realising that Katherine so it took me a couple of minutes but – in my early version, anyway – the fonts changed between the outer novel and inner novel, so it was easy to work out what was happening.

  • Emma
    October 13, 2016

    This sounds like an interesting read. I haven’t read anything by Horowitz either but sounds like I should.

  • Simon McDonald
    October 16, 2016

    I’ve had this proof on my stack for so long and it’s constantly been shoved aside for something else. Sounds like I need to read it!

    • Debbish
      October 17, 2016

      I’m surprised I haven’t read anything by Horowitz in the past Simon. Plus I used to get him mixed up with US author Gregg Hurwitz! #oops

  • sjhigbee
    October 17, 2016

    I need to track down this one – I like the sound of the story within a story. Many thanks for sharing this one:)

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