Book Buzz: Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Now that there’s been snow in the lowlands of Whatcom County and the sun sets before 5pm, it’s time to flip on the gas fireplace and cozy up with a stack of mysteries from the library. Anthony Horowitz’s latest thriller is just the thing to take your mind off the weather and distressing news headlines.

The tale begins in the London flat of Susan Ryeland, longtime editor of the Atticus Pünd detective novels. She’s just received the manuscript of Magpie Murders, Alan Conway’s latest, and though she’s never cared for the difficult author, she’s always been a fan of his books. But she begins with a warning: This book cost her her job, many friends, even her home. Reader, beware!

Magpie Murders is a book within a book, and it works on both levels. First, you get the manuscript, in its entirety, which follows Atticus Pünd’s investigation of the murder of Mary Blakiston. Mary, a cranky village busybody, was found dead at the foot of the stairs of Pye Hall, the local manor house. In typical whodunit fashion, we meet a cast of suspects, each with their motive for wanting Mary dead.

There’s Blakiston’s son Robert, who loudly argued with his mother just days before her demise. Or Dr. Emilia Redwing, who discovered the body. And don’t overlook the Reverend Robin Osborne and his wife Henrietta, who were on holiday when Mary Blakiston died—but have mysterious late-night doings in the woods of the Dingle Dell.

It’s not until a second murder occurs in sleepy Saxby-on-Avon that Pünd takes the case in earnest. Despite a recent terminal diagnosis of his own, Pünd agrees to help his colleague Inspector Chubb investigate the death of Sir Magnus Pye, beheaded with a sword from an antique suit of armor.

If this seems like familiar territory, it is. “Author” Alan Conway (and by extension, Anthony Horowitz) clearly draws from the tradition of Dame Agatha Christie, less the racial slurs and antisemitism that marred Christie’s beloved bestsellers. There are red herrings, British manners, and even recurring nursery rhyme themes to move the plot along.

But Magpie Murders really gets interesting when Susan Ryeland arrives at the end of the manuscript—only to discover the ending is missing. Two days later, Alan Conway is dead. And Susan has a real-life mystery on her hands. Did Alan suspect that someone was out to get him?  Did he insert clues into his last manuscript?  What happened to the final pages?

Horowitz keeps the pacing taut, the clues clever, and the twists surprising. Readers who enjoy playing armchair detective will not be disappointed.

Christine Perkins is the Executive Director of the Whatcom County Library System. She’s read all 66 Agatha Christie mysteries (available at your library) and looks forward to watching Murder on the Orient Express on the big screen.

(Originally published in Cascadia Weekly, Wednesday, November 15, 2017.)