Anthony Horowitz plays with the idea of the fourth wall in this murder mystery where life imitates art in deadly ways. Susan Ryeland, an editor for a small but established publishing house Cloverleaf, returns from a book tour to find the latest manuscript for the Atticus Pund series. She never liked the author, Alan Conway, their relationship if strictly business, but she is eager to read the next instalment in one of the most popular crime series in the UK.
What’s clear when she beings to read is this is Atticus Pund’s last investigation but when she comes to the end of the tantalising tale she finds the last chapters missing. Which of the Saxby-on-Avon residents is the killer? What possible motive could they have for murder in such a sleep, village? One thing is certain, death is connected to Pye Hall, the manor house that casts it’s shadow over Saxby. Susan is eager to find the missing pages on Monday, but over the weekend the news comes in that Alan Conway has committed suicide, and those final chapters are missing.
Magpie Murders could ignite the curiosity of the most reluctant crime reader. It has all the ingredients for a satisfying whodunnit: clues, red herrings, bad blood, shifty characters and secret histories. It’s hard not to be drawn into the manuscript of Alan Conway’s last book, and like Susan, feel cheated when the story comes to abrupt halt. You might have your theories, and set your sights on a prime suspect, but you won’t know for sure until you read those final chapters, but before that there’s the mystery of Alan’s apparent suicide and why those last pages have disappeared in the first place. So you’re pulled back into ‘the real world’ not the 1950s Britain of Atticus Pund, but contemporary London, where Susan begins to think there might be more to the story.
Reading the manuscript first, and then being introduced to the people surrounding him, shows that he used the things closest to him as inspiration for his novels. As a writer, there can be satisfaction in creating a portrait of the people you know, and Alan creates unflattering, often cruel, caricatures in his writing. His sister, his neighbour, his lover all become victim to his pen and his ill-temper. It seems plenty of people had reason to dislike Alan, and that might mean a motive as well.
It’s what I imagine reading an Agatha Christie novel would be like: puzzling, intriguing and ultimately satisfying.