By my rough estimate Anthony Horowitz is the author of around seventy-four books, not counting anthologies he has edited and the odd screenplay (He is the creator of Foyle’s War and wrote most of the episodes, as well as quite a few Midsomer Murders). He has, with the permission of the Conan Doyle Estate, written two Sherlock Holmes stories, not to mention dozens of young adult books and a couple of James Bond. He is a professional author of the highest calibre and has been on my radar for some time.
Now we are slouching out of lockdown in Victoria and the days are becoming long and sunny, I felt it was time to give myself a treat and relax with Magpie Murders, the ultimate beach read. Let me hasten to add, having spent the last two days engrossed in this tale, it would work equally well for cold climate, curled up on the sofa by the fire, reading.
This book is described as a ‘cosy crime’ modeled on Agatha Christie and it begins well. Our narrator, Susan Ryeland, is an editor with Cloverleaf books. Here she is just about to dive into the ninth Atticus Pünd tale from her most successful author, Alan Conway
A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nasho Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book.
We all know that feeling and even though the book is a typescript at this stage, which she will have to edit, she knows she is going to enjoy it. And we enjoy it with her. The village of Saxon-on-Avon with the usual tortured vicar, hated Lord of the manor, spying lady cleaner, and then to the great detective, Atticus Pünd in the tradition of Poirot. So far so predictable. The murder is gruesome
There was a Persian rug, gleaming darkly, still soaked with blood. The blood had spread onto the flagstones, stretching towards the fireplace, encircling the legs of one of the leather chairs that stood there. The whole room stank of it. A sword lay diagonally. with its hilt close to the stairs, its blade pointing towards the head of a deer that looked down with glass eyes…
I was engaged at this point, if in the same way I would be with an Agatha Christie, but then after two hundred pages… Rupture… The last chapters are missing, the story cannot proceed. And now Horowitz starts to weave his devilish twists and turns.
We have a book within a book within a book; we have a deconstruction of the nature of the crime novel and of the nature of murder itself. Here is a take on the genre from a policeman Susan interviews
‘What people like you don’t seem to understand is that you’ve got more chance of winning the lottery than being murdered. Do you know what the murder rate was last year? Five hundred and ninety-eight people – that’s out of a population of around sixty million …. The murder rate’s falling so fast, they’ve got to look into cold cases that were committed years ago.’
I can’t give away the playing out of this story, but it is enough to say there are many surprises. I liked the playful elements Horowitz reveals lying hidden in Magpie Murders, all of which I completely missed. I liked the insight into the world of publishing and found Susan a smart and agreeable narrator, and I laughed out loud when the play on a certain name was revealed.
A perfect read if you want to escape for a while. I am a little behind with this which was published in 2017, but already have the next one in the series, Moonflower Murders, which came out a few months ago.