Mondays are for Murder: Magpie Murders…

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I’m bringing out the big guns for our sojourn into humanity’s dark underbelly today, with the much-anticipated new release Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. We received our copy from Hachette Australia for review, and while the blurb is intriguing enough, it’s nothing compared to the twisty-turny-ness that goes on in the pages.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the tattered manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has little idea it will change her life. She’s worked with the revered crime writer for years and his detective, Atticus Pund, is renowned for solving crimes in the sleepy English villages of the 1950s. As Susan knows only too well, vintage crime sells handsomely. It’s just a shame that it means dealing with an author like Alan Conway…

But Conway’s latest tale of murder at Pye Hall is not quite what it seems. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but hidden in the pages of the manuscript there lies another story: a tale written between the very words on the page, telling of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition and murder.

From Sunday Times bestseller Anthony Horowitz comes Magpie Murders, his deliciously dark take on the vintage crime novel, brought bang- up-to-date with a fiendish modern twist.

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Plot Summary:

It’s going to be quite difficult to tell you much about the plot without disturbing the intended reading experience, so I’ll keep this bit brief.  Susan Ryeland is an editor at a semi-successful publishing house that is kept from going under mostly due to the best-selling titles of one Alan Conway.  Conway writes the wildly popular Atticus Pund detective series, and while he is a complete pill to work with – demanding, selfish and generally unpleasant – he nevertheless delivers on providing his manuscripts bang on time.  It is after Conway has dropped off the manuscript of the ninth book in the series, Magpie Murders, to Cloverleaf books, that life begins imitating art and secrets that have the potential to shed a whole new light on the books and Conway himself are both revealed and kept back.  Even though Conway’s books are keeping her in a job, Susan wishes she had never laid eyes on Conway or Atticus Pund.

The Usual Suspects:

Okay, this section isn’t going to work particularly well for this novel because in essence you are getting two mysteries for the price of one.  You see, one section of the novel is devoted to the manuscript – yes, the entire manuscript – of the ninth Atticus Pund novel, so the reader gets to experience a vintage-style, golden age of crime, sleepy English village mystery, written by Conway, as well as a contemporary amateur sleuth mystery, narrated by Ryeland.  Incredible value for money, when you think about it!  I can tell you that the Pund manuscript features all the usual suspects you would expect from a Christie-esque mystery: the Lord and Lady of the Manor, various lackeys in the form of housekeepers, groundsmen and their families, the village doctor, the sister of the Lord of the Manor, a Johnny-come-lately store owner, a shady Reverend and his wife, a young couple trying to make a go of things…

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, there are two separate, but intertwined mysteries going on here, so I will focus on the Atticus Pund manuscript.  Again, this follows exactly the formula of a vintage British crime novel.  Atticus Pund is essentially Poirot, but German (indeed, Poirot, Marple and various other crime writers are mentioned throughout the contemporary part of the novel, and the reader is supposed to get the sense that the Atticus Pund series has been deliberately written in this style).  The detective and his young assistant come into town and question the appropriate people, Pund smugly lets on that he knows the answer to the mystery, the mystery is revealed in the typical fashion.

Overall Rating:

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Four poison bottles for the utter bewilderment of trying to solve two mysteries simultaneously

I’m finding it hard to really get to the nitty-gritty of this novel and express what I thought about its quirks and twists, because I don’t want to give anything away. There are two major plot points that I think would really detract from the reading experience if you were to find them out before reading the book, so if you know any reviewers who are fond of spoilers, it might be best to steer clear until you’ve read it.  Suffice to say that if you are a fan of murder mysteries of the contemporary or historical variety, you should definitely give this a go and see what you think, because the format will most likely be different to anything you’ve read before in this genre.

The story itself has layers upon layers, with puzzles and sideways references hidden throughout.  In terms of solving the mystery/s along with the characters, it is decidedly tricky to do because there are so many clues that are given piecemeal, or only make sense in the context of information that is revealed later.  Having said that, I certainly came across a few clues that had me thinking “Yes! I’ve got it!”.  I was proved wrong, of course, but not in the way I was expecting.

One of the strange things that I experienced, that most readers probably won’t have to contend with, is the fact that I was reading an uncorrected manuscript of an uncorrected manuscript, so I was trying to find clues where no clues were intended! My review copy was an ARC (or advanced readers copy, or uncorrected proof copy for the uninitiated) and therefore contained minor errors – typos mostly, and in one case, the wrong name assigned to a character – and as the Atticus Pund manuscript within the novel also contains minor errors (deliberately, I suspect, to make it look like a first draft manuscript), I was thinking that the errors in the contemporary bits might have some hidden meaning.

They didn’t.

But it certainly made reading the book a bizarre, code-cracking experience.

Horowitz has done a brilliant job of creating two complete mysteries within the one novel.  I enjoyed the Atticus Pund manuscript very much, given that it is in the vintage style that I prefer.  In fact, Horowitz has done such a good job with making Pund like Poirot that I wish he had been given charge of the new Poirot stories, rather than Sophie Hannah.  The contemporary part of the novel was a little bit slow for my liking, mostly because we have already been presented with what is essentially an entire book within the greater story, so I just wanted to hurry things along and get to the dual reveals.

Horowitz has proved once again what a fantastic mastery of writing he has with Magpie Murders.  We on the Shelf have long been fans of his work,  and although there were some parts of the book overall that don’t sit quite right with me on reflection, Magpie Murders is a wonderful, quirky and unexpected addition to the murder mystery section of the shelf that will have readers trying to puzzle out clues within clues.

Highly recommended.

Until next time,

Bruce

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