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

Ode to an Author: Anthony Horowitz

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Mad Martha here – after hearing the joyous news of the publication of the fifth book in the Power of Five series, “Oblivion”, I decided to honour with a poem that master of creepiness – Anthony Horowitz.  Sit back and enjoy the incredible job I have done of rhyming with Horowitz….including having to use a superfluous “s” on more than one occasion.

Enticing tomes in which he fits

some terrifying horror bits,

I crave the thrill, suspense and glitz

of books by ‘T’ony Horowitz.

I grab them with my hairy mitts,

They lift me out of boredom’s pits,

As spellbound and engaged I sits,

And read and read, I just can’t quits!

How I wish I had the wits to write like Mr Horowitz.

The Corpse-Rat King…a memorable romp through death, disaster and destiny

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[Marius]..”stepped away from the hull and found a small rise where he could lay back and knit his hands behind his head, and pretend he was lying in a field somewhere to rest off a particularly good drink, instead of waiting at the bottom of the ocean for an insane centaur with delusions of grandeur to finish beating up a ship full of nothing.” p 276

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had been waiting patiently for this book to land on my shelf for a good long while, my shelf’s owner having pre-ordered it well before the publication date based simply on the intriguing title alone.  The corpse-rat of the title refers to one Marius don Hellespont, who makes his living by trawling corpses found on battlefields and relieving them of valuables that have become superfluous to their owner’s current station.  It is on one of these sojourns that Marius is mistaken for a corpse and accompanied to the land of the dead, where he is promptly tasked with finding a dead king to rule over the domain of the dear departed.

Cue death, disaster and finally, destiny, as Marius does his level best to escape both the pesky dead and their pesky task while his body passes through varying states of decomposition.

I must admit that this gargoyle took a while to warm to this book, as the character of Marius is not altogether a likeable fellow – at least early on.  The further I ventured with him though, the more he grew on me and by the halfway point, I found myself snatching snippets of time to plunge back into the story.

The book did not carry the tone that I imagined it might on reading the blurb.  I was expecting something along the lines of Yahtzee Croshaw’s “Mogworld”, which also contains an undead hero, initially out for number one, whose only aim is to escape his current predicament by either (a) dying properly, or (b) returning to life.  The Corpse-Rat King, however, was not, for the most part, light-hearted and the humour was far less flippant than in Croshaw’s tome.  This I initially considered to be a negative aspect, but after finishing it, I am of the opinion that this book contains a much deeper story than Croshaw’s, and one which has been well-crafted to engage the reader beyond the amusing premise promised by the blurb.  Certainly by the halfway point, the tone has lightened and the final chapters are replete with the cheerful calamity that one would expect of a group of protagonists that include two people in various states of undeath and a  7-foot tall royal skeleton.

The Corpse-Rat King is definitely worth a look in my opinion, not least because it is published by Angry Robot Books, who are fast becoming one of my “go-to” publishers when I am in need of a fresh take on sci-fi or fantasy.

Speaking of sci-fi and fantasy, as an end note, I have very recently become aware that the fifth book in the “Power of Five” series by Anthony Horowitz, “Oblivion” is due for release in the next month.  I am utterly excited about this as it has been such a long gap between books four and five that I began to believe that I had hallucinated the idea of a fifth book, and that the story did really end with number four, but I somehow missed it.  Stay tuned for a review of this one in the future.

Until next time,

Bruce