Wednesday, 24 July 2019

ANTHONY HOROWITZ - MAGPIE MURDERS (2016)


Synopsis/blurb....

"Magpie Murders is a double puzzle for puzzle fans, who don't often get the classicism they want from contemporary thrillers." --Janet Maslin, The New York Times

A New York Times Bestseller | #1 Indie Next Pick | NPR Best Book of 2017| Amazon Best Book of 2017| Washington Post Best Book of 2017| Esquire

Best Book of 2017

From the New York Times bestselling author of Moriarty and Trigger Mortis, this fiendishly brilliant, riveting thriller weaves a classic whodunit worthy of Agatha Christie into a chilling, ingeniously original modern-day mystery.

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 bestselling 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.

Masterful, clever, and relentlessly suspenseful, Magpie Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction in which the reader becomes the detective.

Not a book I would have considered reading if it hadn't been selected as the monthly pick for one of my Goodreads Reading Groups and if I hadn't crossed paths with a copy in a local charity shop a day or so after it's nomination.

Best book ever? No. Best book of 2017? For some maybe, but not me - it was an ok read. Initial thoughts - very long - two mystery books in one actually and one which didn't have me
totally gripped or enthralled, though neither was I tempted to launch the book at the wall in annoyance. I think it helped that I read it while on holiday so I had a chance to devour large chunks of it in a couple of sittings. I think it would have dragged had I been reading it around my normal work-life routine.

An author submits the manuscript of his ninth and final Atticus Pund mystery to his publisher. His editor and us the reader read it...... 50s, English village setting, the death - accidental or otherwise - of the poison-tongued village harpy, a plea for Atticus Pund to investigate and stop the wagging tongues of the village spreading poison about the dead woman's son, a refusal, soon followed by the murder of the dead women's employer, Pund rouses himself and investigates, multiple villagers interviewed, plenty of motives - a failing marriage, a flighty wife and her new boyfriend, a proposed development and some unhappy villagers, a dodgy antiques dealer, a robbery, an iffy groundsman, a shifty vicar, a wronged sister, and more .......

Its an okay tale within a tale, I was interested in seeing who was the guilty party without especially feeling any sympathy or great concern for many of our participants, or desire for justice for our one, possibly two victims....... Horowitz spins a twist as the final chapter or so of the manuscript is missing and we don't know the outcome.

This neatly brings us back to the present day and his editor's subsequent search for the missing chapters, somewhat complicated by the suicide of the author, Alan Conway who was suffering from inoperable cancer I think (I read it a couple of weeks ago and didn't bother bringing back my copy from my holiday and am searching the memory banks).

Our editor, Susan Ryeland turns sleuth hunting the manuscript. Her hunt soon evolves into a loose investigation into Conway's death....... a sudden suicide, a busy diary, a will, a broken marriage, a failed same-sex relationship, a row with a neighbour, a restaurant row, plagiarism, a rejected sibling, a publisher on the precipice, the book business, her own romance, career and future, historical connections among all the participants etc etc.

The present day mystery involves more time spent in the company of more unsympathetic characters.......eventually after approximately 564 pages we have the missing chapters and the outcome to Pund's final case and we get answers over Conway's death and a pointer towards Ryeland's future.

It was quite cleverly constructed - two mysteries for the price of one, neither of which I hated. Conway's book is supposedly a hat-tip towards the GA mysteries of Agatha Christie and the like. I'll take the expert's word for it as they aren't the kind of books I typically read. I think I was more concerned by the failings in Atticus Pund's health and the manner in which he broke the news to his loyal assistant than any over-riding interest in the resolution of the murder of the village big-wig.

The second mystery regarding the missing pages and the whys and wherefores and subsequent scheming and shenanigans was also ok without being earth shattering either.

Overall I enjoyed the read without it having me rushing to see what else Horowitz has published for adult readers. (My son was a massive teenage fan of his Alex Rider books.) Not one to live long in the memory, nor recommend to other readers - my wife wasn't having any of it anyway!

3 from 5, maybe 3.5 for the novel within a novel quirk. Definitely not a 4.

Read - July, 2019
Published - 2016
Page count - 564
Source - purchased copy (secondhand)
Format - paperback (chunky)


7 comments:

  1. If I'm being honest, Col, I liked this one better than you did. I agree with you that the structure of the story is very cleverly done. I liked the character of Susan Ryeland, too. You have a point that the story is long, so I can see how that might take away from it for you. But even if it wasn't your top read, I'm glad you found some things to like about it.

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    1. Margot, I'm glad I read it, but I wasn't blown away by it.

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  2. You more or less echo my own thoughts on this one: despite all the raving that was going on in the GAD world, I thought it was just okay -- readable, but nothing wonderful -- and that Horowitz wasn't being as clever as he clearly thought he was being.

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  3. I have this book, Col, and I hope I get to it soon so I can see what I think. A pity the book is so long, I always have to give myself a big push to read the longer books.

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    1. It won't seem so long Tracy, if you convince yourself you are reading two mysteries.

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