Friday, July 28, 2017
Review of "Magpie Murders" by Anthony Horowitz
"Magpie Murders" is a cleverly constructed double whodunit.....two mystery books in one. Here's how it works:
Susan Ryeland, a fiction editor at London's 'Cloverleaf Books', is reading the manuscript of 'Magpie Murders' - the ninth book in Alan Conway's Atticus Pünd mystery series. Pünd - a fictional private detective inspired by Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot - is a German Holocaust survivor who lives and works in England.
Conway's Atticus Pünd books have been Cloverleaf's bread-and-butter.....and have even been optioned for a television show. Thus, Susan has high hopes for Magpie Murders. The only downside to the successful series is the author himself, who's not Susan's favorite person.
Alan Conway's 'Magpie Murders' Manuscript
The plot of Magpie Murders, set in 1955, involves two deaths at Pye Hall - the manor house in the village of Saxby-on-Avon. The first fatality is Mary Blakiston, Pye Hall's housekeeper, who dies from a fall down the stairs. Mary had a tragic history: her teenage son Tom drowned many years ago, after which her husband left for good. Mary then clung tightly to her remaining son, Robert, who chafed under Mary's smothering attention. Robert left home as soon as he could, and works as an auto mechanic at the local garage. Mary and Robert have a fractious relationship.....and had a big, public argument shortly before Mary died.
In Saxby-on-Avon Mary was known as a do-gooder, always helping at church and lending her neighbors a hand. However, Mary was also the town busybody, who stuck her nose into everybody's business.....and learned people's secrets.
Mary's death is officially ruled an accident, but local scuttlebutt suggests foul play.....and there are whispers about Robert pushing his mother down the stairs. This disturbs Robert's fiancée, Joy Sanderling, who travels to London to ask Atticus Pünd to 'clear Robert's name.' However Pünd - who has a terminal illness - declines to help.
A few days later, Sir Magnus Pye, the owner of Pye Manor, is killed in his front hall....beheaded with a sword! When Pünd hears of this development he changes his mind and - with his assistant James Fraser - journeys to Saxby-on-Avon to help Inspector Chubb investigate the recent deaths. It turns out that Sir Magnus was a haughty, diffcult man who planned to sell a tree-filled copse, called Dingle Dell, to building developers.....a move universally opposed by the townsfolk.
As in all cozy mysteries, there's a handy group of suspects for the possible murder of Mary, and the definite murder of Sir Magnus. These include Sir Magnus's disenfranchised sister; his cheating wife; the vicar and his spouse; the doctor; the cleaning lady; Mary's estranged husband; and so on.
Pund and Chubb question persons of interest, collect clues, speculate about this and that.....and Pünd eventually reaches a conclusion.
Editor Susan Ryeland is about to read the final chapters of Magpie Murders - where Pünd reveals all - when she realizes the last section of the manuscript is missing. Susan calls her boss, Charles Clover, whose copy of the book is also incomplete. This shouldn't be an insurmountable problem. Susan can just contact the author, Alan Conway, and ask for the missing pages. Except that Conway has committed suicide!
Susan looks for the lost chapters in Conway's home and office - and reaches out to his sister and other loved ones - but can't find the book's finale. This is a potential disaster for Cloverleaf Books, which depends on the megabucks generated by the Atticus Pünd novels.
Susan continues to search and learns that - like his character, Atticus Pünd - Conway was seriously ill. This could be a reason for his suicide. However, Alan's sister insists that the writer would NEVER take his own life. Moreover, Conway's diary reveals that he made plans and appointments for the days following his death.
Thinking it all over, Susan concludes that Conway was murdered, and that his death is connected to the missing pages of Magpie Murders. Thus Susan decides she'll track down the killer AND locate the vanished chapters. Lo and behold, a new amateur sleuth is born!
As before, there's a ready set of suspects for Alan's demise, including: his ex-wife; his boyfriend; a would-be writer who thinks Alan stole his idea; Conway's former colleagues; the producer who optioned the Atticus Pünd books for TV; and other folks acquainted with the cantankerous author.
Since the police accept that Conway killed himself, some people discourage Susan's investigations. Why rock the boat, after all? The intrepid editor carries on regardless, putting herself in grave peril.
In the end, Susan uncovers all. She learns the the truth about Alan Conway and finds the chapters that conclude Magpie Murders. So job well done!
Anthony Horowitz's dual suspense novel is well-crafted and a fitting homage to the 'golden age of British mysteries.' For added fun, Magpie Murders contains cunning tributes to people and places in Agatha Christie's mystery books.....and clever allusions and puzzles. Very amusing all around.
I enjoyed this entertaining novel and highly recommend it to mystery lovers. For fans of Dame Agatha, it's a must read.
Rating: 4.5 stars