Orion | 2016, Pb 2017 | 560p | Bought copy | Buy the book
One wet August evening, Susan Ryeland, Head of Fiction at Ryeland Books, picked up the manuscript of the latest Atticus Pünd detective mystery by Reyland Books’ most successful author, Alan Conway. And so we begin to read Magpie Murders, the last case, set in the 1950s, for Atticus Pünd, a man half-Greek and half-German who survived a concentration camp only now to be defeated by a tumour. But, while one part of him wishes to withdraw, to sit and reflect on the meaning of his life, another part of him welcomes the distraction of a new and final case.
The housekeeper of Pye Hall, a grand house in a small village near Bath, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs. It looks as if she tripped over the vacuum cleaner lead but Mary Blakiston knew everything that went on in the village, its deepest secrets, and that meant that she was a woman with enemies, surrounded by people with motive and opportunity. But this will not be the only death in the village. Atticus Pünd will have a final investigation worthy of his famous powers of detection.
But, of course, that is not at all what Magpie Murders is about. And to discover its true mystery and enigma, I urge you to read the novel for yourself. Anthony Horowitz is the master of playing with the novel format, as seen in The Word is Murder and the very recent The Sentence is Death, and here he turns the whodunnit inside out and upside down. The result is a murder mystery the like of which I haven’t read before.
Magpie Murders is a substantial book and yet not a page is wasted or surplus. This is plotting at its very best. It is enormously intricate and elaborate, full of games and puzzles, layers within layers, all playing on the idea of author as character and the blurring of fiction and reality. It’s an immensely enjoyable and rewarding read that manages to be both clever and welcoming. I am in awe of Anthony Horowitz’s skill as well as of his talent in writing such thoroughly entertaining crime fiction which works in so many unexpected ways, but not least for providing the page-turning pleasure we expect from a whodunnit.