When this book launched its author explained that the Magpie Murders too over two years to write, but the idea for it came to him way back when he was adapting the Chief Inspector Barnaby books by Caroline Graham for The Midsomer Murders TV series. He’s written young adult novels, James Bond, and two Sherlockian mysteries, but this is something different again. One part of it takes place in the modern day publishing industry, and the other in a piece of Golden Age-style crime fiction.
Susan Ryeland is a book editor at a small London publishing house. Her current assignment is to read through Magpie Murders, the latest in the Atticus Pünd series by the firm’s star author, Alan Conway. Settling herself down with a glass of wine and the obligatory tortilla chips and salsa, she commences reading.
It’s July 1955, and the residents of the village of Saxby-on-Avon have gathered at St Botolph’s church to bid farewell to Mary Blakiston, the housekeeper at Pye Hall who died in a tragic accident. However, tongues have started to wag, and not only do some villagers doubt that it was an accident, but the finger of suspicion is starting to point at her son, Robert.
When the half-Greek, half-German PI Atticus Pünd is contacted by Robert’s fiancée, Joy Sanderling, he’s not inclined to take the up matter. Especially as he’s just been told that his health is failing and his time is short. However, the horrific murder of Sir Magnus Pye piques his interest and he determines to solve one last case.
Once installed in the village, Atticus and his assistant James join in with the police investigation into Sir Magnus’ murder. Magnus was unpopular among the locals because he was just about to sell a picturesque area on the edge of the village to developers. It seems there are were plenty of people with a motive, and several of them are decidedly cagey under questioning. Which of the village’s well-guarded secrets has cost two people their lives?
Frustratingly for Susan, the manuscript ends without revealing who the killer was. Worse still, author Alan Conway has died in an apparent suicide. Convinced that there are missing chapters to be found, Susan decides to search for them and makes a startling discovery in the process. The parallels in Magpie Murders with the life of its author beg the question: why would Alan Conway kill himself? Unwittingly, Susan puts her own life in danger the more she delves into the mystery of the missing chapters. What’s in those pages that someone doesn’t want to be revealed?
Anthony Horowitz’s latest book will appeal to fans across the crime fiction sub-genres. On the one hand you have the modern mystery with an amateur sleuth following in the footsteps of the classic detective. Then you have Atticus Pünd, who is reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, or Francis Duncan’s Mordecai Tremaine. This section of the book will certainly make you feel like you’ve been transported back to the Golden Age of crime fiction, with all its descriptions of scenery and interesting characters.
Magpie Murders is one of those books with a cosy, familiar feel about it too, and certainly one that will have you curling up on the sofa with your beverage of choice and at the very least a packet of digestives. Once you start reading it’s an easy book to become absorbed in, purely because you find yourself being drawn in from the start by the narrative. Magpie Murders has to be ranked as a must-read.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars