Century | 2020 (20 August) | 608p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book
Retired publisher and editor Susan Ryeland runs a small hotel on Crete with her long-term boyfriend Andreas Patakis. It should be the good life but Susan is feeling restless, missing London, her old job, something to test her. The timing is fortuitous, then, when she is approached by Lawrence and Pauline Trehearne, who run their own exclusive hotel, Branlow Hotel, in Suffolk. Their daughter Cecily has disappeared and her parents believe it is connected to a murder that took place eight years before in the hotel on Cecily’s wedding day. Hotel handyman and ex-offender Stefan Codrescu is now in prison for the murder. But just before her disappearance, Cecily had phoned her parents to say that there had been a miscarriage of justice, that she knew the real identity of the murder. Apparently, she had worked it out while reading Atticus Pund Takes the Case, a detective novel written by Alan Conway, the reprehensible and deceased author, known most of all for The Magpie Murders. If anyone can work out what it was that Cecily found in those pages, it is Susan Ryeland, Conway’s publisher.
The Moonflower Murders sees the return of the unusual sleuth Susan Ryeland, whom we first met in The Magpie Murders, which is such an ingenious novel – a novel within a novel and a mystery within a mystery. The recipe is repeated here and to such brilliant effect. Once more Susan must play detective, while feeling that she is completely out of her depth and, actually, in considerable personal danger, trying to second guess Alan Conway, following the clues in his novel while questioning her own set of reluctant witnesses, the family and colleagues of Cecily, all within the claustrophobic confines of Branlow Hotel. It is so clever! Resolution seems far off but it becomes increasingly vital as Cecily remains unfound and Susan begins to understand that she has stirred up a deadly hornets’ nest.
It isn’t necessary to have read The Magpie Murders first but it would help to understand the back history of Susan and Alan and also to appreciate the fabulous creation of Atticus Pund, Conway’s fictional German detective and refugee who solved cases in the UK just after the Second World War. Conway himself, although missing from the novel, is a vital presence, as the author of Atticus Pund Takes the Case and also as one of Susan’s many suspects for the murder in the hotel eight years before.
It’s all deliciously complex and twisty with more red herrings than a fish market. It is an intellectual exercise in many ways and so it’s difficult to become too emotionally involved in events or people but the reader is certainly engaged with it all, appreciating the wit and humour, and the games. To some extent, the reader is also a sleuth – there are plenty of clues to hunt for and it’s a delight to discover them when they’re explained, making a re-read desirable.
When all is said and done, The Moonflower Murders is a thoroughly enjoyable and very well-written classic whodunnit (in the style of Hercule Poirot, to my mind), that might play with the genre but also displays it in full glory with all of the elements you might want. Anthony Horowitz is such an entertaining and clever writer. I can’t wait for more.