The Golden Age of detective novels is almost universally agreed to have occurred between the 1920s and 1930s. The majority of novels of that era were "whodunits" and dozens of authors excelled, most notably Agatha Christie. She is a novelist whose works are rivalled in sales only by the Bible and the complete works of William Shakespeare.
Within her mystery novels are many layers, so many complexities, clues, and red herrings that try as hard as you can to get to the conclusion before the detective, very few people actually succeed. Every Christie fan is familiar with that sense of mounting tension as they approach the climax of one of her novels: the struggle, in particular, to keep one’s eyes from straying too far ahead in case they catch, before they’re meant to, the presiding sleuth’s “And the name of the murderer is . . .”
The Christie reader is, naturally, an armchair detective, a detective by indirect means. They don’t identify with the hero gumshoe but operate independently of him. Shifting the various clues that have been strewn across their path by an author whom they can’t help regard as a murderess by proxy, a designation encouraged by her faintly ghoulish public image, of a bespectacled old dear with an incongruous partiality to homicide. New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz pays homage to the Golden Age of detective mysteries and Agatha Christie in his new novel, Magpie Murders.
“I opened the wine, I unscrewed the salsa. I lit a cigarette. I began to read the book as you are about to. But before you do that. I have to warn you. This book changed my life.” These lines appear near the beginning of the novel and set a chilling and ominous tone.
Present day London: Susan Ryeland, head of fiction at Cloverleaf Books has edited all eight of Alan Conway’s previous crime novels which are set in the 1950s England. These novels feature the unconventional private investigator Atticus Pünd, and Susan looks forward to spending the weekend reading number nine. But when she finishes Magpie Murders, she is both puzzled and troubled to find that there is no final chapter.
Adding mystery to these circumstances, Ryeland soon learns that Conway has committed suicide. But, as she goes in search of the missing chapter, Susan starts to question whether Conway’s death might not have been self-inflicted. After meeting the people in Conway’s complex life, she begins to realize that there are real life parallels between the cantankerous writer’s reality and his fictitious works. How much did Conway copy from that reality in creating his successful mystery series? And how close can Susan get to the facts before she herself is at risk?
While at first glance it might appear that Horowitz has created a new type of detective novel, make no mistake, Magpie Murders is basically a tribute to the classic detective novels of the past. It is obvious that the author found great pleasure in conceiving and writing what is basically a novel within a novel. And while being two mysteries in one, Horowitz has covered two categories. He gives readers of the genre a cliché period style thriller while also paying tribute and celebrating Agatha Christie and turn-back-the-clock detective mysteries of yesteryear.
It is extremely challenging to successfully incorporate two divergent storylines within one novel, but within, Magpie Murders, Horowitz has masterfully navigated this slippery slope. The author of numerous bestselling works that include Trigger Mortis, Moriarty, and The House of Silk, Horowitz has in this new novel created a classic that is filled with old school intrigue, character, and style.
Susan Ryeland is a believable amateur sleuth, and the two mysteries coincide cleverly while Horowitz effortlessly manages to provide the reader with both endings simultaneously.
Horowitz also allows Alan Conway to utilize old time detective skills while using puzzles and cryptic clues as devices in the modern day storyline. What Anthony Horowitz has done here is something very clever and it works very well. It would be nice to see Susan Ryeland return in her own mystery series.
Be warned, those readers who are expecting something new and unique within the detective mystery genre will be greatly disappointed and would be better served if they look elsewhere. Overall, Magpie Murders is an ingenious, twisting tribute to the sleepy English countryside murder and will thoroughly entertain readers of old fashioned detective thrillers.