Magpie Murders is the latest novel written by Anthony Horowitz, the acclaimed author of the Alex Rider and The Power of Five series. “Magpie Murders” is also the name of the mystery novel within Horowitz’s novel, written by Alan Conway. “Magpie Murders” is Conway’s final book in his Atticus Pünd detective series, which are set in English villages in the mid-twentieth century.
Conway’s story takes place in a little village called Saxby-on-Avon. Mary Blakiston, the housekeeper of Pye Hall, is found dead at the foot of the stairs. A few days later, Mary’s employer, Sir Marcus Hall, is found with a severed head. Solving the mystery is further complicated by the host of eccentric personalities and possible suspects: Joy Sanderling and her fiancé, Robert Blakiston, Mary Blakiston’s son, who is suspected of murder due to a previous row with his mother a few days before her death. There is the local vicar, Robin Osborne, who lives with his wife, Henrietta Osborne, and Dr Emilia Redwing and her husband, Arthur, as well as Mary Blakiston’s husband, Matthew. It’s up to the local detective, Atticus Pünd, and his assistant, James Fraser, to find out the cause of the two mysterious deaths in Saxby-on-Avon.
Susan Ryeland, Conway’s editor, discovers a jarring oddness in his last novel. The final chapters are missing, and Conway is dead. Ryeland gradually notices that the novel’s plot is uncannily reflective of Conway’s personal and professional life. As Ryeland investigates the strange relation between Conway’s novel and his life, she uncovers a labyrinth of jealousy, fame, desire, avarice, loneliness, mediocrity and dark ambition.
Magpie Murders contains a mixture of interesting codes, anagrams, and red herrings. Interspersed between chapters narrated by Ryeland are letters, manuscripts, articles and interviews. I thoroughly enjoyed his integration of classic and contemporary English authors, such as Agatha Christie (queen of whodunits), Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, and Sophie Hannah. The challenging lives of all those involved with the written word: the writer, editor, and publisher, are also explored in the novel. The novel’s pastiche style was basically Hay-on-Wye in print form. Literature and film enthusiasts, therefore, along with aficionados of crime and mystery fiction, will read this metafictional delight over and over again.