Title: Magpie Murders
Author: Anthony Horowitz
When I had picked up Magpie Murders, I had gone into it blind; I hadn’t anticipated the book to be about two murder mysteries all at once. For that reason, the prelude confused me and it wasn’t until I had gotten hooked on the vibe of Atticus Pünd and was desperately trying to find the earlier books in the series that I realised Magpie Murders is a two-in-one book.
For those looking to dive into this book, here is a little bit of context. Anthony Horowitz’s book is split into two halves: the first titled ‘Magpie Murders’, as in the manuscript for the last novel in the Atticus Pünd universe, a fictional series that is insanely popular within the setting of Magpie Murders (the actual book written by Horowitz).
In the novel, Pünd takes on one last case after discovering that he is suffering from an inoperable brain tumour. An elderly divorcee has mysteriously died in a small village after allegedly falling down the stairs and her estranged son is suspected to have played a role in her death. The fiancée of said son has come to beg Pünd to take on the case and clear her fiancé’s name.
While Pünd is investigating the first case, a murder occurs in the village: the boss of the elderly divorcee and local tycoon was found beheaded in his own home. Naturally, it seems like the two cases are linked and Pünd is left to uncover the truth.
The rest of the novel unfolds as expected of any other murder mystery: clues come up and are investigated, suspects are investigated and filed for later consideration. But right as Pünd announces he has solved the mystery, the first half of the novel abruptly ends.
We are then thrown into the second half of the novel, where editor of the Atticus Pünd series, Susan Ryeland, discovers that the manuscript she’s received is incomplete. The last chapters are missing and she is on her way to contact author Allan Conway about it when she finds out that Conway has just been found dead and is suspected to have committed suicide.
Ryeland attempts to find the last chapters of ‘Magpie Murders’ but as the chapters remain stubbornly missing with none of Conway’s closest friends and family knowing anything about the book, the editor begins to suspect that something else is at play and that she might be in a murder mystery herself.
As I’ve mentioned in my other newsletters, I’m a fiend for murder mysteries, having grown up on a diet of Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Anthony Horowitz does not shy away from the references to these well-known detectives; Atticus Pünd is almost the lovechild of Poirot and Holmes with his soft side masked under his cold foreign exterior. So for readers who are just as in love with the isolated detective trope as I am, Magpie Murders is right up your alley.
However, there is nothing particularly standout-ish about Pünd. Just like the many literary detectives who come before him, Pünd is less likely to fend them off with a gun or spy weaponry than he is to simply sit in a chair and deduce.
Personally, I don’t have anything against “armchair detectives”. They might not be the most exciting in terms of action but the delight is in uncovering the dark secrets of a supposedly peaceful village. But if you were in the market for something more along the lines of James Bond or Gabriel Allon, then Atticus Pünd is not the detective for you.
The mystery itself is easy to follow, there are no complicated twists and turns like The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and ‘Magpie Murders’ is well written. Where Magpie Murders falls short, however, is in the second half of the novel where Ryeland is properly introduced.
While briefly mentioned in the prelude of the book, her true shining moments are in the later half of Magpie Murders. To my dismay, her own mystery about Conway’s death is somewhat overshadowed by the incomplete manuscript. As she raced towards the conclusion of her own mystery, I found myself thinking more about Pund than Conway.
The implication of Magpie Murders is that the truth behind Conway’s untimely death is hidden in the pages of Pund’s case. And while that is not wrong, the actual answer to Ryeland’s mystery falls short of my expectations. The repercussions to Conway’s death are also not as significant as Horowitz makes it out to be. Under scrutiny, the motives fall apart. I was almost disappointed in the way Magpie Murders ended. There was no character development for Ryeland and when she revealed the ending to the Atticus Pund series, I was just glad that her storyline was over.
Regardless, the joy of such a thick murder mystery novel is almost enough to make up for any of Magpie Murder’s shortcomings. The book in all was a lovely read and even though real life got in the way of me completing it as fast as I would have liked, I was always excited to pick it up again and continue where I had left off. Rarely was I lost, and for the novice armchair detective in me, that is always a plus.
This review first appeared in the newsletter The Reader Who Came In from the Heat. Subscribe for more reviews in your inbox.