Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Book Review: The Magpie Murders

When I wrote my previous book review late last month (link), someone commented that she had just then  been reading and liking  The Magpie Murders by Anthiny Horowitz. When I checked the title with Amazon, I saw that I could purchase a Kindle version for about 4 bucks. Who could resist?

The Magpie Murders is an unusual mystery, for there is a book within a book, a story within a story, and both stories get to be called The Magpie Murders. It seems confusing to describe, but it's quite clear in the reading.

The protagonist, Susan Ryeland, of the main story is an editor for a publishing company in our time period. Ryleland has just read the latest manuscript from their top-selling major author, Alan Conway. He has written a mystery, The Magpie Murders,  set in the 1950s. It is very much an Agatha Christie type of whodunit with the clever detective revealing all to an assembled audience at the end. The hero detective of the piece is Atticus Pϋnt who is quite Poirot-like: a foreign-born, private detective working on British soil who gets to solve cases that befuddle the constabulary. Like Poirot, Pϋnt is also somewhat eccentric. This Christie-like character and plot may seem derivative, and I guess that it is, but I think it is meant to be, and it works.

But that inner novel within the story leads to a mystery for our editor to unwrap in present time, but I must withhold much to avoid spoiling it for others.

I thought the interweaving of the two stories, the supposedly fictional one within and the supposedly real one in current time, was quite clever.

Over the course of the contemporary, Ryeland,  plot, we were able to read the Pϋnt manuscript in its entirety. To me, it was quite well done in the Agatha style, thus suiting the 50s era of the setting. In fact, I liked it better than the main and current story of our editor's mystery, which bogged me down a little bit from time to time.

Susan Ryeland struggles to understand her mystery but suddenly, and perhaps all too suddenly, has all of the answers during the climax when she seemingly hadn't just a moment before. We had been able to follow her musings and discoveries, and I confess to being a little unprepared for her sudden grasp of all of the tiny clues.

I was also somewhat disappointed with the climax, but once again, I bite my metaphorical tongue to avoid spoilers. There is so much cleverness in The Magpie Murders that I was let down by the overly used, trite climactic formula.

In summary though, despite my qualms about the ending, which is probably unique to me because I can be quite a fusspot, I applaud  the author, Horowitz, for being very clever in the interweaving of the two narrative elements. The novel really was well done in that respect. Kudos also for a very good book-within-the-book. I am somewhat less impressed with the main novel than the interior novel, but I am certainly not saying that it's unworthy. Not by any means. If you're a fan of whodunits, you'll probably like The Magpie Murders.


Marty Damon said...

I'm always looking for a new mystery writer to read, and thank you for reminding me I can look for them in the electronic world, too.

Marie Smith said...

Summer read, me thinks!

Mage said...

I think I will read my last Penny first. :)

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Like yourself, John, I just recently completed the Magpie Murders and enjoyed the format very much. I had not read about the plot before downloading the book from our local library (free beats even $4). A few years ago I read The House of Silk by Horowitz and would highly recommend that work, especially if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes. Thanks again for the Elizabeth George recommendation as I am currently waiting for a library copy to become available.

Beatrice P. Boyd said...

Another Homes novel from Horowitz is Moriarity and that's next on my list.

Jenn Jilks said...

I love your writing style! "I bite my metaphorical tongue to avoid spoilers. "