There are a few sayings about magpies, those black and white crow-like birds found across the British Isles. One is that they like to ruin other birds’ nests, and eat the eggs. Another is that they steal and hoard shiny things. And lastly, it’s said that if you see one magpie you’ll find sorrow, but if you see two you’ll find joy. Well there’s not much shine or joy for the main characters in this psychological thriller which is has a neighbours from Hell theme to it.
The book opens with a prologue – a rather depressed couple moving out of a flat and relocating to a distant location. The female narrator says she doesn’t even want to keep pictures of the old place as their experience was that bad. You get the sense something very nasty has happened but the source of their angst isn’t revealed. Then, we shift to Jamie and Kirsty, two 20-somethings who believe they’ve found an ideal apartment and the price makes it a steal. They buy it and move in together, and go about making their little nest – maybe they’ll get married, and have a child there together.
They meet the neighbours who, like everybody’s neighbours, have their little eccentricities. The lady upstairs is a greying hippie herbalist with a cat called Lennon. Above her there’s a nice old couple, and the man befriends Jamie who helps him out with his computer. The old fellow is the author of young adult fantasy books and his study has been made into a sort of wizard’s lair. But the really freaky ones – Lucy and Chris – live in the flat below Jamie and Kirsty. Outwardly friendly, though somewhat distant, they cause a nuisance by prank calling the fire department, ordering pizzas and taxis, and signing Jamie and Kirsty up to bizarre newsletters and junk mail. Even worse, they send an abusive letter complaining about noise. Then they put a CD through the letterbox containing a recording of Jamie and Kirsty having sex.
Privately the young couple are outraged but they carry on trying to be friendly. Jamie is, after all, a bit wet. They even agree to go go-karting with Chris and Lucy, with a couple of other friends. At the track, Jamie’s friend Paul decides to race Chris and there’s a massive crash that leaves Paul in a coma. Jamie’s convinced it was done deliberately by Chris, and not an accident, although he didn’t see it happen. Paul might die, but Chris and Lucy don’t even enquire as to his condition – cold. The pranks, hoaxes and strangeness continue and soon Jamie and Kirsty are convinced that Lucy and Chris are sneaking into the flat when they’re out.
Where is it all heading – some kind of major confrontation? Are the other neighbours in on it? Will Chris and Lucy get their comeuppance? What does the future hold for our young couple who seem to have the perfect flat and neighbours from Hell? It might remind you of the film Pacific Heights. Author Mark Edwards keeps gradually dialling up the psychological tension until it’s almost sickeningly unbearable. Some really upsetting things happen, the stress they’re under makes the young couple even more vulnerable and illogical, and Jamie in particular reaches breaking point. It’s worth reading to find out what happens.
The Magpies feels very naturally written and is easy to read. If you’ve read our interview with the author you’ll know that Edwards has experienced a neighbours from Hell scenario himself, so maybe that’s why this story is so smoothly delivered. It moves along at a good pace and although it doesn’t quite keep you guessing, as things get worse and worse you’ll certainly find yourself gasping, ‘Oh no!’ out loud, and cringing at the pain inflicted. A great buy on Kindle at just £1.99.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars