Book Review

Magpie Murders: story within story

Fahmida Mehreen | Published: 00:00, Jun 09,2019

Book Review

Magpie Murders (2016) is a delight for classic murder mystery lovers like those who love Sherlock Holmes stories or Agatha Christie creations. The satisfaction of having a plethora of clues, tricks and plots formulate into the final resolve is as good an incentive as any to pick up this book. Because of the uniqueness of the format of the story, it is very captivating for a bookworm, writes Fahmida Mehreen

Published in 2016, Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is one of the bestselling teen spy novels in recent years. The author has created some of the UK's most loved and successful TV series, including Midsomer Murders and Foyle's War. He has also written two highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes novels, The House of Silk (2011) and Moriarty (2014) as well as a James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis (2015).

Magpie Murders is a Sunday Times best-seller crime mystery thriller novel. It is homage to the golden age of crime and mystery novels from celebrated authors like Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This is a ‘whodunit’ novel (Who did it? As in a mystery story). The plot is twisty, intelligent, and unique, keeping the readers engaged throughout.

The most interesting part of this book is that it is a story within a story. The build-up of the main plot is very intriguing.  The perfect formula for an Agatha Christie style murder mystery story: a protagonist, a creepy English village which is set in the 1950s, a lord of the manor murdered, a housekeeper who falls down the stair and breaks her neck, and a whole range of characters who are likely to commit the crime having their own motives, and are gathering clues in the motion of uncovering the stratagems. All mysteries are tied and solved at the end with the big reveal.

Magpie Murders has all of it — except it has a double of everything, since it is a story within a story.

The novel starts with the protagonist, editor of Cloverleaf publishing Susan Reyland, sitting in her room with a manuscript in front of her. It is the latest mystery novel of the successful Attacus Pund series set in the 1950s by best-selling author Alan Conway, from Cloverleaf publishes.

Susan has been working with Alan for years and readers have come to love the detective Attacus Pund. The publishing house is not in a good position and they are heavily dependent on the success of Attacus Pund who is similar to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. Susan starts to read the manuscript named ‘Magpie Murders’ and so do we, the readers, and this sequence continues for quite a substantial portion of the book.

As we continue reading the story, we get to know that Pund is a German-Greek immigrant, who has assisted the police in a number of murder cases. He has an assistant, James Fraser, and is dying from terminal cancer. This is believed to be his last case.

He and James went to a sleepy English village, Saxby on Avon, to solve the murder of Sir Magnus Pye in his manor house, Pye Hall. Also, the house caretaker, Mary Blakiston, is found dead under suspicious circumstances.

Pund investigates the case, talks to a host of suspects, ranging from the village vicar to the manor house gamekeeper to even Sir Magnus’s own sister. It soon becomes evident that both the victims have a plethora of reasons to be murdered.

Sir Magnus is loathed by everyone in the village for various reasons that can generate motives, starting from anger at his plans to build houses on the Dingle Dell woods (the village meadow), to his wife who is having an affair, to his twin sister who he has treated very badly over the years.

As to Mary Blakiston, she was a busybody who poked her nose into the affairs of others and knew the village’s guilty secrets.

He also explores Dingle Dell which is just as strong a character as any other in the manuscript. Pund’s investigation also causes him to look into another mysterious death from the past, one which marred Mary and her family’s lives ever since.

After uncovering a web of deceit, fraud and secrets, connecting all the dots and the clues, Attacus finally solves the case. But just when he is at the point of declaring the murderer, the manuscript ends and the final chapters are missing and we come back to Susan’s narrative.

To top it all, the author, Alan Conway, is discovered dead, apparently having committed suicide. This puts Susan in a difficult position as she simply must finish the story, not only because it will keep the publishing house afloat and to save her job but also because she starts to have a hunch that Conway has been murdered.

Susan cannot help getting drawn deeper into investigating the mysteries like an amateur detective but loses track of the fact that there is a dangerous killer on the loose. Soon she realises that the final missing chapters also hold the clue to Conway’s murderer since she finds that all the characters of ‘Magpie Murders’ exist in real life.

She moves around from one location to another, talking to people closely acquainted with Alan and tries to solve the puzzle. As like the characters Sir Magnus and Mary Blakiston in his manuscript, Alan Conway was also not a pleasant person and had his share of people with strong motives to kill him. All these mysteries are resolved simultaneously towards the end where the solution of the book in the story is in the real world and vice versa.

With two separate narratives with separate set of plots running parallel, the readers get detective story experience with extremely clever style of narration, multiple plots and sub plots that keep the readers guessing till the instant of the momentous divulge.

This book will be a delight for classic murder mystery lovers like those who love Sherlock Holmes stories or Agatha Christie creations. The satisfaction of having a plethora of clues, tricks, plots formulate into the final resolve is as good an incentive as any to pick up this book. Because of the uniqueness of the format of the story, it is very captivating for a bookworm.

And, I believe one may not simply put down the book once the person starts reading it. The narrations are so spellbinding that the reader automatically shall move to the next page to know what’s next.

As a reader, and now a reviewer of this book, I would like to take the opportunity to say that this is a kind of book which not only a mystery-story lover will love, but also any booklover will appreciate. The fineness of the language and the neat building up of the plot is capable of holding the attention of any reader.

Thus, to unveil the real murderer and the finale of the story, add this to your reading list. I am sure you will not regret spending your valuable time reading it.  

Fahmida Mehreen is a young aspiring writer.

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