Magpie Murders


Anthony Horowitz


Mystery / Thriller


Date Reviewed:

July 5, 2020

he back cover of this novel compares it favorably to the works of Agatha Christie. It has been a long while since I read anything by Agatha Christie, but I am pretty sure that I have read at least two of them, and thought they were pretty good. But that was so long ago that I am unable to compare Magpie Murders to any of Christie's books. But as a novel in its own right, Magpie Murders is highly entertaining.

Magpie Murders has a structure of a novel within a novel. The first half of the book is a copy of the a mystery novel written by Alan Conway. It is the ninth episode in a series of detective novels featuring Atticus Pünd, a private detective of considerable reknown. It features a double set of deaths in at Pye Hall, the first was the death of Mary Blakiston - the cleaning lady who evidently tripped over the cord of the vacuum cleaner and broke her neck as she tumbled down the stairs. An unfortunate accident, but since this is a murder mystery, things may not be as straightforward as they seem. The second death it to the master of Pye Hall, Sir Magnus. His death was definitely a murder - someone has chopped off his head with a sword taken from a nearby suit of armor. Atticus Pünd, and his helpful sidekick Fraser, arrive at Saxby-on-Avon and begin to investigate.

Magpie Murders has a plethora of characters, and naturally, each of them has motivation to want Sir Magnus dead. When Pünd interviews them, it is clear that most have shaky alibis, and could potentially have committed the crime. There so many suspects! The vicar is outraged that Sir Magnus sold the forest land (The Dingle Dell) to developers. Perhaps it was the discontent wife, Frances Pye, who would inherit great wealth if Magnus perished - or might be her lover, the greedy impoverished Jack Datford. Mary Blakiston's son Robert had a public row with his mother just before her death, where witnesses heard him rage "I wish you were dead!" Joy is Robert's fiancee, but Mary strongly disapproved of the match - might Joy have been tempted to remove an overbearing mother-in-law? True, Joy is the one who enlisted the services of the great detective Atticus Pünd, but in one of the Agatha Christie novels I read, it was the killer herself who brought Hercule Poirot onto the case - and, as we are constantly reminded, the Magpie Murders is a homage to Agatha Christie. What about the gardener, Brent? He was just dismissed for no apparent reason by Magnus Pye from his lifetime job! Consider Clarissa Pye - Magnus's twin sister, who lives poorly because she was born 12 minutes later than Magnus, who inherited the entire estate. There is an entire cast of suspects - indeed, there are several more that I haven't included here - and yet the writing is clear enough that it isn't confusing trying to keep straight who is who, and why they appear to be suspicious and what their motives might be.

The editor reads the novel Magpie Murders, but discovers that the climatic final chapter is missing - the one that lays out the solution to the complicated case. Why would Alan Conway have sent in an unfinished manuscript? Then comes worse news - Alan Conway is dead! He committed suicide after discovering he had an incurable disease - a condition that exactly mirrors the fate of detective Atticus Pünd. The second half of the book then embarks on a new mystery, because the editor doubts that Conway actually committed suicide. The more she investigates, the more it becomes clear that it was murder. The second half of the book follows the editor's investigation, which has uncanny parallels to the story written in Magpie Murders. Once again, there is a huge cast of suspects, all of whom have means and motive to knock off the insufferable Alan Conway. Once again, Horowitz does a masterful job of keeping all the characters straight for the reader, while he dispenses clues and red herrings. In the end, of course, all is explained.

This is an entertaining novel. It is easy to read, and the plot is intricate. There are TOO many clues, but all gets explained at the end. I should investigate some of Horowitz's other novels.