It’s not often I ask for a crime novel for Christmas. There are always plenty to read in this house but I had my eye on Anthony Horowitz’s new book Magpie Murders which I hadn’t yet managed to read. There’s a trend at the moment towards traditional ‘golden age’ style mysteries written in a contemporary style. Martin Edwards has written a very good piece on why golden age is popular again. He himself has played a huge part in resurrecting the genre and in a post-Brexit world it can be a great escape to immerse yourself in a very contained world.
Magpie Murders is a difficult plot to summarise as it’s effectively a book within a book structure. The novel opens with editor Susan Ryeland beginning to read the new novel by one of her authors, Alan Conway. Readers love his detective Atticus Pünd although it looks like ‘Magpie Murders’ will be his last outing as Conway has given his protagonist a fatal illness. Ryeland (and us readers) then read the manuscript of the book and realise that the last few chapters are missing. Susan attempts to track down the missing pages, a task looking increasingly unlikely.
It can be difficult to effectively integrate two distinct narratives within a book and Horowitz does this successfully by making the stories different in tone and style. At first reluctant to leave the London ouvre of Susan Ryland, I became engrossed in the mystery that Atticus Pünd sets out to solve in Saxby-on-Avon. In fact, Pünd is the most interesting character in the book and could easily hold a set of novels on his own merits.
Horowitz has great fun with the book within a book theme. There are fake quotes from writers such as Ian Rankin, Matthew Prichard, Agatha Christie’s grandson makes an appearance talking about the fictional writer and there’s an interview between Horowitz and his creation right at the end. For someone who shies away of books about writers and the publishing industry (it can feel quite incestuous given that I spend a significant amount of time interacting with this in real life) I thought the book was a fantastic read. Well done to Horowitz for doing something a bit different with the crime novel.