When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway's latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the best selling crime writer for years, she's intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pund, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan's traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job. Conway's latest tale has Atticus Pund investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she's convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.
This conventional mystery, however, is surrounded by a framing story, narrated by Conway's editor, Susan Ryeland. At the book's opening, she is settling back on the weekend to read the manuscript of Magpie Murders for the first time. She (and the reader) are startled and dismayed when just before the final reveal of the killer, the manuscript just ... ends. Where's the rest of it? That sets Susan off on a scavenger hunt that turns into a murder investigation in itself.
To say more would be saying too much. Sufficient merely to note that the twists and turns keep the reader fully engaged. Once the narrative switched from Susan's POV to the manuscript, I kept wondering when she was going to pop up again. By the time she did, I had nearly forgotten there was even a framing device involved, so absorbing was the mystery-within-a-mystery. Recommended for lovers for mysteries and "funny little foreigners".
Over the years I have become I am rather wary of extended meta fiction as I find that too many novelists struggle to sustain the illusion of a book-within-a-book. There are some wonderful exceptions, of course, such as Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’ in which she pulls off a triple-whammy with a book written by one of her characters which in turn feature a story written by one of the meta characters. The action moves seamlessly between the three stylistically contrasted narratives (all of which are called ‘The Blind Assassin’), culminating in a finely crafted conclusion. In my experience, however, such a feat is the exception rather than the rule.
I had no such worries about Anthony Horowitz’s ability to sustain a plausible novel within a novel. In recent years he has been commissioned by the literary estates of both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming to write new books in the Sherlock Holmes and James Bond series, and has met the challenge admirably. Indeed, I far preferred his ‘Trigger Mortis’ to Sebastian Faulks’s addition to the Bond oeuvre, and found it completely matched the originals in style and content.
In ‘Magpie Murders’ Horowitz gives free rein to his stylistic variations. The novel is narrated by Susan Ryeland, chief editor at a small publishing house. She is handed the manuscript of the latest novel (also called ‘Magpie Murders’) written by Alan Conway. Conway is feted as creator of a hugely successful series of whodunnits set in the 1950s and solved by Atticus Pund, a concentration camp survivor who has made his home in London. The Pund stories have sold in their millions, and crime fiction connoisseurs place Pund on a par with Hercule Poirot. Conway himself, however, is less popular, with a reputation as a ‘difficult’ man. As the novel opens, Susan is about to start reading the latest manuscript when she learns that Conway has died, falling from a tower at his large Suffolk home. We are then presented with the manuscript as submitted to her.
Horowitz captures the tone marvellously, and Conway’s novel within the novel is entirely gripping. I would certainly have happily read the rest of the series if they existed. He then extends his exhibition of dexterity with a personal memoir written about Conway by his sister, which shows a completely different yet equally plausible stylistic voice. Predictably enough, I suppose, Susan Ryeland comes to doubt the received story about Conway’s death, and starts to investigate. Aspects of her investigation start to display uncanny resonances with Conway’s last novel.
All in all, this was very clever, very accomplished and very entertaining.
I am not divulging many details but this one follows an, ailing, retired investigator, named Atticus Pund, looking into a murder at a manor house, called Pye Hall, in a sleepy English village. This death could have been an accident but it is soon followed by a clear-cut murder and we are now off and running. There is also no shortage of suspects and the list keeps growing. I will also mention there is also a book, inside of a book, in this story, which doubles the fun. Enough said: Read it!
The Magpie Murders referred to in the title is the transcript of a cozy mystery about an inquiry into a village murder, but this is also about the death of the author of this manuscript, the unlikable Alan Conway. The reader is drawn into first one than the other of these murders and as his long time editor hunts for the missing pages of the manuscript that will solve one mystery, she uncovers a desperate murder plot. Both these mysteries mirror each other to some degree but I felt that the modern day plot line was the weaker or the two. It didn’t hold my interest nearly as well as the 1950s version did.
Overall though, Magpie Murders is a brilliantly plotted and executed story. The interlinked crime stories fit together nicely and the author obviously had great fun in inserting plenty of clues and red herrings for his audience to mull over.
The Magpie Murders is the title of crime writer Alan Conway’s latest novel. The last in a series featuring his popular private detective Atticus Pünd, a half Greek, half German immigrant who has survived the concentration camps and has settled in England after the war. The book is an English village mystery set in the 1950’s. The death of a cleaning lady leads a young woman to Pünd to ask for his help in the murder of her fiancé’s mother. Assuming it was murder, since the police files the case under fatal accident. The woman was found with a broken neck in the home of her wealthy employer. However her son was heard ushering death threats towards her which sets in motion some ugly village gossip, sowing doubt about the integrity of the young man. Pünd has to refuse, there is only so much a private detective can do when few signs point to crime. However soon there is another much more horrifying death and Pünd along with trusted sidekick James Fraser travels to the village of Saxby-On-Avon to investigate. Suspects are met and interrogated, enmities and motives for murder unearthed. Everybody has something to hide: The shady antique dealers, the village doctor and her husband an unsuccessful painter, the wealthy family occupying the manor house and even the vicar and his wife have a few skeletons in their closet.
With every chapter Atticus Pünd is getting closer to the truth. Eventually he holds all clues in hand to unravel this devilish mystery.
But wait, what kind of a detective novel is this? Frustratingly the last chapter is missing from the manuscript. A whodunit without a solution, could this be an unpleasant joke? But there are other shocks in store for Susan Ryeland: Author Alan Conway has died, he fell off the roof of his home. It seems a tragic accident, perhaps suicide, but soon Susan suspects that it was actually murder. Not only does she need to find the missing chapter, she is also looking for Conway’s killer.
So what we have here is two mysteries for the prize of one. One is a classic whodunit, the other a modern thriller. However both provide a commentary on traditional detective stories and the mystery genre in general.
Horowitz missed out on authoring the new Hercule Poirot mysteries (that task went to Sophie Hannah, who amusingly is mentioned in the book), but now he has written his own Agatha Christie novel. There is even a cameo appearance from Christie’s grandson Matthew Pritchard.
So, what’s not to like? - you might ask. True, it is all very cleverly put together, but it didn’t engage my heart. This sort of metafictional literature is difficult to pull off, without becoming too self-awarely clever and mechanical. I might have been entertained, but the characters, including Poirot-surrogate Atticus Pünd, left me entirely cold. But maybe this is the sort of novel which requires repeated readings to be able to gasp every facet of its elaborate construction.
For fans of classic mysteries this is still a must-read. Any Christie-fan will have fun spotting all the references to the Queen Of Crime’s work.
Both stories have a time of denouement: we eventually find out who was responsible for the murders in Alan Conway's novel, and then the finale of the story in which editor Susan Ryeland in the central character.
So the book also contains some interesting reflections on writing cozies, why readers like them, why the television public can't get enough of murder, and how writers often come to hate their main protagonist, even when killing them off is the equivalent to killing the golden goose. There is even a passage when the editor Susan Ryeland wonders how those protagonists, among them Morse, Rebus, Poirot, Wimsey, Marple, Poirot, felt when they realised their time was coming to an end.
So there was a lot to like about this book, a lot to think about, although I found it slow going at the beginning, and it is quite long.
A warning for Kindle users: on my paper-white kindle, the book that Susan Ryeland is reading, Alan Conway's Magpie Murders, is rendered as a "softer" print, which I found quite hard to read. It is almost as if the Kindle is trying to display it as grey. It wasn't something I noticed when reading on the iPad app, but there various parts of the book were rendered in a different font, indicating a different "voice", a different part of the book.
He’s not her favourite person but she’s a huge fan of his best sellers featuring MC Atticus Pünd. And in her hot little hands is “Magpie Murders”, the final book in the series.
From this point, we’re transported back to 1955 & spend the first half of the book immersed in Pünd’s world. He’s a private investigator of German extraction who assists police with their trickier cases. As Conway’s story begins, Atticus & his assistant James Fraser leave London to investigate disturbing events in the village of Saxby-on-Avon.
I don’t want to give away the plot but if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you’re in for a treat. It’s clearly an homage to the golden age of Manor house murder mysteries & the author has ticked all the boxes. You have suspicious deaths, eccentric characters with hidden pasts, old grudges & secrets & one very nosy neighbour who seems to know them all. Oh….and that missing bottle of poison. Saxby-on-Avon is the perfect setting, a quaint english village that seems right out of an episode of Miss Marple. Completing the picture is Pünd. He’s a soft spoken, courtly man with more than his fair share of “little grey cells” & is an outsider like Christie’s other famous sleuth.
I got so wrapped up in Pünd’s investigation that I forgot about the prologue. Suddenly we’re back in the real world with Susan & she’s just as shocked as we are by the last page of Conway’s manuscript. Again, no spoilers, but events in the present soon find her morphing into a modern day Miss Marple & there are clever parallels to the time we spent in Saxby-on-Avon.
Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, the story itself flows smoothly & the many layers make for an enjoyable read. The only quibble I have is the amount of time it takes Susan to solve her own mystery. It bogged down a bit around the 3/4 mark before picking up again for an eventful finish. But it’s entirely in keeping with the style & in a nice twist, mirrors Pünd’s method of investigation.
It’s a book about books for those who love them & there are many literary references as well as tidbits about the world of publishing. It’s a smart read that’s meant to be savoured & will test your own powers of deduction. Just don’t be surprised if Pünd kicks your butt.
I enjoyed this, especially the parts in Susan's voice, but in the end it seemed bit of an anticlimax. I thought there was going to be more of a direct relationship between the two plot lines. Also, my edition had several typos/editing errors. At first (when they were in the text of the Conway proof) I assumed these were to establish it as an unedited text, but then they cropped up in the other sections too and I wondered if they were significant in some way -they weren't!
An unnamed narrator warns the reader about Magpie Murders in the first few pages..."As far as I'm concerned, you can't beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and red herring,s and then finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn't seen it from the start. That was what I was expecting when I began. But Magpie Murders wasn't like that. It wasn't like that at all. I hope I don't need to spell it out any more. Unlike me, you have been warned."
Well, who could resist such a warning? Not I! I settled in with delicious anticipation - and was rewarded. You see, Horowitz has written a novel within a novel. Our narrator starts reading a period murder mystery set in the 1950's in Britain. "...the golden age of British whodunnits with a country house setting, a complicated murder, a cast of suitably eccentric characters and a detective who arrived as an outsider." That outsider is Private Investigator Atticus Pünd. (Who will call Hercule Poirot to mind) This book kept me enthralled for over two hundred pages - then we go back to our narrator on page four. (who turns out to be the author's editor) And discover that there is a mystery to be solved in the present day. But we're left on tenterhooks, awaiting the reveal of the final whodunnit of the 1950's book.
Confused? Don't be - the novel reads seamlessly and is so very, very addictive. I've tried to say much without giving too much away. Suffice it to say, that Magpie Murders is highly recommended - easily one of my favourite reads this year.
Now Ryeland is a sleuth, looking for and examining clues. What happened to the last chapter of the manuscript? Was the author's death suicide or murder? The first half of Magpie Murders is Conway's manuscript. The thing is chockful of Christie references-- even someone like me who doesn't particularly care for Christie could find several of them unaided. Names, towns, buildings, anagrams... you name it, and it's probably there for you to cogitate upon. The second half is Ryeland's investigation, and I have to admit that I was more successful in deducing what had happened to Alan Conway than I was in figuring out what happened to the characters in his manuscript.
Yes, I did enjoy this book a great deal, but I didn't love it, and my reason may not make much sense to you. One of the reasons why I don't care for Agatha Christie is because, whenever I've read one of her books, I am overcome by a feeling of the author's smugness at being able to concoct such a perfect puzzle. I felt this same smugness from Anthony Horowitz... but not to the same degree, probably because the character of Susan Ryeland was the book's saving grace.
If you love Agatha Christie, puzzles, and enough details and red herrings to sink the world's largest fishing trawler, Magpie Murders is going to be your perfect cup of tea. Enjoy!
a) he was murdered
b) Conway has used his writing to poke fun at both the people in this small village meaning there are a great many people with reason to want him dead and the genre which could mean there are suspects even closer to Susan
c) he has left clues in the manuscript, although unintentionally, to who dunnit if only she can find the missing chapters
Magpie Murders by author Anthony Horowitz is both an homage to and an examination of the murder mystery genre especially the Golden Age of Mysteries. It also offers up two cracking good mystery novels or, to be more precise, a mystery novel within a mystery novel. Disguised as clues within the story, it examines the genre including among other things what makes a good mystery, what characteristics define a good fictional detective, and what’s in a name. It also looks at how it is seen both by readers and by many of its authors – how many critics and even famous mystery writers like eg Doyle see it as of lesser quality and value than literary fiction despite or perhaps because of the amount of money it makes for its writers.
But regardless of whether the mystery genre is the child of a lesser literary god, with Magpie Murders, Horowitz has offered up two very clever, very enjoyable stories and that’s plenty good enough for me.
Thanks to Edelweiss and Harper for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review
Shrewd, cunning, intelligent, and ingenious!
I love the golden age of mysteries, but, of course, I also love present -day mysteries, too. This book gave me both of those things in one novel!
How is this for a setup?
Susan Ryeland is an editor for Cloverleaf Books. She plans to spend her weekend reading the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest Atticus Pudd mystery, entitled ‘Magpie Murders’. The reader is allowed to read along with Susan, and pretty soon I found myself enjoying an absorbing historical mystery, set in the mid-fifties, the style of which bears a strong resemblance to that of Agatha Christie. But, just as the murderer is about to be revealed, Susan makes the horrific discovery that the last few chapters of the manuscript were not included. In fact, they are missing!!
If that weren’t bad enough, she soon hears that Alan Conway is dead, after allegedly committing suicide. It is more imperative than ever that Susan finds those missing chapters, because Cloverleaf Books’ livelihood depends on it.
Her inquires soon leads her to realize ‘Magpie Murders’ holds the clue to why Alan Conway, died, and to where those the missing chapters are. To solve the true crime mystery of Alan’s death, and discover the solution to the ‘Magpie Murders’, she turns amateur detective, hoping to not only solve a crime, but hopefully, keep her publishing house afloat and save her job.
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Mysteries are my first love. I read mysteries long before I dabbled in horror, or fell in love with romance novels. I love experiencing new authors and frequently dabble in various genres and sub-genres, but I rarely ever go more than a week without reading a crime novel of some kind.
However, reading numerous crime stories for so many years has a few drawbacks too, because now I have learned the various formulas, devices, tactics and familiar plotlines, used by authors within this genre, meaning I can often puzzle out ‘whodunit’, although I may not have worked out the finer points.
This ‘occupational hazard’, if you will, keeps me on the lookout for a book or an author that can challenge me, give my brain a good workout, keep me guessing, and stun me with that ‘gotcha’ moment.
This book did all that, and kept me thoroughly entertained from start to finish, plus, I got not one, but two mysteries, which are cleverly intertwined. Okay, frame stories aren’t exactly new, but this one is genius, I tell you, genius!!
The story is chock full of details, anagrams, parallels, and crafty twists, and occasionally a bit of humor or an inside joke. It is perfect for even the most jaded mystery reader, and will certainly keep you on your toes. Despite the slightly expanded length, the story is very fast paced and hard to put down, even though I wanted to savor it as long as possible.
Needless, to say, fans of golden age mysteries will not want to miss this one, but any and all mystery lovers should give this one a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed.
The Atticus Pund mystery was pretty interesting and just when you were about to find out who did what to whom, we reach the missing chapters. Then Susan tries to find them. While she was searching for them, she met several people from Alan’s life and they all felt it was very unlikely that Alan would commit suicide, even with the terminal brain tumor diagnosis. At some point Susan believed Alan had been pushed, and started investigating even more to find the murderer.
As she learned more about Alan, she also learned much more about Atticus Pund, the character she had been editing for years. Alan liked playing games in his books and he did things like name all the characters from Rivers in the English countryside, or after birds. He also borrowed many acquaintances and locations he was familiar with, often putting people in his book in a less than flattering manner.
The last book had a lot of clues to people who could have had a reason to give Alan his final push. But which one would actually have gone that far? When Susan finally finds the missing last chapter, it almost costs her, her life.
I thought this was a very good book, and I enjoyed reading it from start to finish. It was cool, in that the manuscript had clues and meta-clues as to what happened and gave a few extra twists to mystery. Fun and enjoyable, I would recommend it to cozy mystery lovers everywhere.
This book within a book was frustrating at times. It was difficult to know who was the narrator and which “book” you were in. There is a difference of font, but it is a slight variation and easily missed. Susan is a bit too “talky.” I wanted her to just get on with it instead of rehashing all of the clues and suspects. I thought the Atticus book was by far the better plotted and told of the two tales. It just took forever to get to the finish line.
Andreas seemed to be thrown in just so he could be around to “finish the plot.” Susan didn’t miss him at all when he was gone for 6 weeks. The end, therefore, seemed too pat a finish.
The depiction of the English village and the various inhabitants was spot on. I didn’t agree with some of the characterizations of other detectives. I rather like Father Brown and don’t find Miss Marple brusque at all.
So….. Magpie Murders by Alan Conway is well written and tightly plotted. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is too long and too fussy. Bring back Conway and Pünd!
4 of 5 stars
Perhaps other readers will be better detectives than I, the resolution(s) caught me by surprise. A number of surprising twists and turns with plenty of swerves that will intrigue readers of mystery novels. A good book for the beach...
There is everything to love about this book. It's so cleverly meta, containing a book within a book (and the book within a book even has its own reviews, author page, and page numbers), and thus a mystery within a mystery. Each mystery is brilliant and brilliantly written, with shocking, surprising reveals. The mystery within a mystery is an homage to Agatha Christie and that golden age of mysteries, and there are great shout outs and name drops to other wonderful mystery authors and books.
This is a book that reminds me why I love mysteries ("whodunnits" as one of the narrators refers to them as)--the mad rush to turn page after page because I have to find out what is happening next, the obsessive tallying of clues and possible suspects, getting lost in small English villages with brilliant detectives, a cast of characters both unique and so familiar, and that gasp out loud that comes when I reach the solution to the mystery and realize I've been completely fooled (and I love the book even more for fooling me).
I tend to get anxious about rating things-just how many stars to give a book can be something I go back and forth on, and in the end, I'm still not sure the star rating really accurately reflects how I feel about a book, and where I would rank it on my list of reads. But for this book, five stars is completely accurate and deserved. Go read this book, right now. I can't recommend it enough.