Magpie Murders

Written by Anthony Horowitz
Review by Douglas Kemp

Much of the book is taken up by a conventional murder mystery set in 1955 in the quaint village of Saxby-on-Avon in the south-west of England. But the story is an unfinished manuscript by the successful writer Alan Conway, the ninth in the Atticus Pünd detection series. The story begins with Conway’s editor, Susan Ryeland, about to read the typescript, with the death of Mary Blakiston, apparently having fallen down the stairs of the large house Pye Hall. But there are many in the village who have good reasons for not regretting her death. Then there is another murder, and time for Herr Pünd to get involved. Given that the name of characters include a Magnus Pye (magpie) and we also have a Dr Redwing and a Joy Sanderling, then the reader soon gets the idea that there is element of tongue-in-cheek—indeed it can be seen as an homage to the traditional English cosy village murder mystery that Agatha Christie did so well.

But when Susan Ryeland sees that the manuscript is not complete, events take a sudden, surprising turn, and she gets involved in her very own mystery as she attempts to uncover the puzzle of Alan Conway.

The story by Alan Conway is printed in a font that I presume is designed to look like typescript, and seems unnecessarily irritating, given that it takes up around half of the book. There are some errors in text of the novel, but in this odd metafiction way, the reader cannot be sure if they are deliberately placed there by Anthony Horowitz or, are, indeed, just a mistake. For example, a character refers to beatniks, yet the term was not in use in the UK at all until the later 1950s. Nevertheless, this is an eminently readable and thoroughly entertaining novel, very much part of the golden age tradition.