Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

The last thing Atticus Pünd wants to do is to investigate one last case – and it will be his last, as he has received grave news from his doctor – but following a request to look into the accidental death of Mary Blakiston, a busybody cleaning lady, who fell to her death down a flight of stairs. It had to be an accident, after all – the doors to the house were all locked. But when the owner of the house is decapitated – and not in an accident – Pünd and his young friend James Fraser find themselves hunting one last murderer.

This is the summary for the latest Atticus Pund novel from Alan Conway, but Susan Ryeland, who works at Clover Books, his publisher, would never expect the effect that the book will have on her life. As the book progresses, it is clear that there is something more here than a simple Golden Age detective novel. Soon events in real life start to take precedence – just what was Alan Conway trying to achieve? And why has someone resorted to real life murder?

OK, this is going to be a tricky one to review, especially given my spoiler policy – generally, I don’t mention anything that happens after the first third of a mystery novel, but there’s a very clear change of direction at almost exactly the halfway mark. So I’m going to have to tiptoe round that bit.

The thing is, even if this book was just the Pünd manuscript, this would be worth the admission price. People were very critical of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot continuations, but I wonder, if they were of this style, would people have been so disappointed? For Pünd is very Poirot-esque, while still being his own character, and the mystery is a thing of beauty – fairly clued, while still being original, and with a perfect solution that I missed by a mile.

And then you get the second half, that I won’t go into detail about, but it’s just as satisfying – a second mystery with strong ties to the first, along with a stunning clue hidden in plain sight.

The less you know about Magpie Murders before reading it, the better, so I’ll leave it at this – a deeply satisfying multi-layered mystery novel that you won’t be able to put down. A tribute to the Golden Age while still bringing things into the present day. Highly Recommended.

Stay tuned to the blog as in a week or so, I’ll be taking a look at Horowitz’s latest mystery, The Word Is Murder. If it’s half as good as this one, I’m in for a treat.

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14 comments

  1. If I read Horowitz’ own words on ‘The word is Murder’, than I think he’s taking the premisse in ‘The Magpie Murders’ one step further.

    ‘It’s been two years since Injustice aired and Detective Daniel Hawthorne needs cash. Having gotten himself fired from his job at the Metropolitan police, Hawthorne decides to approach Anthony Horowitz. He’s investigating a bizarre and complex murder and he wants Anthony to write a book about it, a bestselling book of course, with a 50/50 split.

    The only catch is they need to solve the crime.

    But award winning crime writer Anthony Horowitz has never been busier in his life. He’s working on Foyle’s War and writing his first Sherlock Holmes novel. He has a life of his own and doesn’t really want to be involved with a man he finds challenging to say the least. And yet he finds himself fascinated by the case and the downright difficult detective with the brilliant, analytical mind. Would it be really such a crazy idea for Anthony to become the Watson to his Holmes? The Hastings to his Poirot?

    Should he stick to writing about murder? Or should he help investigate?’

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m really glad you liked this one so much, PD. I remember remarking (possibly in my own review) about how wonderful it could have been if Hannah had been half so clever with her Poirot disasters. I actually did solve both mysteries, but I was so enamored of the style and wit and clueing – how Horowitz got everything right – that I gave this book a rave! I’m also happy that you’re reviewing The Word Is Murder soon. We Americans have to wait months to get a hold of these books, so I ordered Magpie Murders through Book Depository and read it before it hit our shore’s shelves. Based on your review, I plan to repeat the plan! 🙂

    I’m in the middle of another of your past recommendations and plan to review it soon . . . that is, if the start of school this week doesn’t slow me down as considerably as I fear it might!

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    • I’m a great fan of Horowitz, I like his young adult novels, his collection of short horror story, his Bond (Trigger Mortis, a great sequel to Goldfinger), his entertaining Alex Rider serie and his House of Silk about Sherlock Holmes.

      This one is not translated into french for the moment but i still have to read Moriarty so I’ll wait

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I bought the Kindle version of “Magpie Murders” and am reading it now. Currently I’m around page 50. I don’t know how well the mystery-within-a-mystery is, but Atticus Pund comes across as a very good takeoff on Hercule Poirot. If the Agatha Christie estate continues to commission authors to write “new” Poirot mysteries, I would love to see what Anthony Horowitz does. If they don’t, I wouldn’t mind him write one of the “earlier” Pund mysteries that are listed in the fictional Alan Conway bibliography.

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  4. It’s hard to say much without spoiling the book, but I’m going to try. I have not finished the book, but I read the book out of sequence so I could enjoy “Mystery #1” completely. Am I the only one here who did this?

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      • I probably should have done what you did, Puzzle Doctor. The reason I didn’t is ironic. I assume that most people reading this blog probably have a job where they only work eight hours and then there is no penalty for reading a Kindle on your break. Four days a week, I work ten-hour shifts, and for the ten and a half hours that I am inside the warehouse where I work, I am not permitted to bring a Kindle past the security gates. What’s so ironic about it? I work for Amazon!

        Anyway, I would not recommend that new readers do what I did for two reasons. First, if you make the mistake of even looking ONE PAGE past the conclusion of “Mystery 1” to see if the protagonist is OK, you may glimpse a sentence that reveals the culprit for “Mystery 2”. But more importantly, even if you DON’T, the conclusion to “Mystery 1” contains an important spoiler for the solution to “Mystery 2.” The only reason I *didn’t* figure that out was that I was even denser than James Fraser, Atticus Pünt’s sidekick. (In case you’re wondering, the similarity between Fraser’s last name and Hugh Fraser, the actor who played Arthur Hastings for many years on the “Poirot” series is NOT coincidentatl. It’s one of many in-jokes that Anthony Horowitz includes in the book.)

        At one point, it’s revealed that Alan Conway, the author of the Atticus Pünt novels, keeps a collection of every Agatha Christie mysteries for reference in his writing study. I would not be surprised if Horowitz does the same because this book is clearly a love letter to Dame Agatha. I was amazed at how quickly I could ignore the differences clearly set up to show that Punt was NOT Poirot, because the more I read, the more Atticus Punt became Hercule Poirot. I don’t know if the Agatha Christie estate would commssion Horowitz to write a new Poirot book after getting Sophie Hannah to write two, or if Horowitz would be willing to write a full-blown Atticus Punt novel that is merely alluded to in the book, but I’d be willing to buy it.

        Last comment is that this has to be the most interesting MOTIVE for a murder that I’ve seen in a long time. This book is highly recommended.

        Liked by 1 person

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