I didn’t know much about the Magpie Murders when Dan 2-Headphones suggested it as a buddy read. I read the description, and though it seemed suspiciously lit-fic–I was loathe to experience another Cloud Atlas–I gave it a try. The set-up is indeed a bit lit-fic: an editor sits down to read the first copy her author’s book, and then the story launches into a book-with-a-book format.
For a life-long fan of Christie-type mysteries, the first half is a beautiful, solid reproduction of an English manor mystery. Specific books came to mind, such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and After the Funeral, but mostly it felt like a Christie theme park English village, complete with wealth landowner and wife, a doctor, a vicar and his wife, the person that runs the pub, a gardener, the ‘girl friday’ (or whatever decade the cleaning person is), a mechanic, a police officer, and shopkeepers of various sorts. There are people decrying the behavior of the young, and people resenting the new development/housing. Horowitz does update it nicely by giving us a female doctor, but he can’t resist giving us a Hercule Poirot and Arthur Hastings, although in a semi-hysterical move, he makes Poirot into the German Atticus Pünd (honestly, I’m surprised he didn’t go with a Frenchman, just for fun). Tell me this sentence doesn’t just scream Poirot:
“Of course I do not believe the things that you suggest and it gives me no pleasure to ask you these questions. But everything must be in its place. Every statement must be verified, every movement examined.”
Then we go back to the modern mystery. For the most part, the narrative does not jump back and forth between ‘book’ and modern time, which I appreciated. There are visual cues to make it clear: page numbers, typesetting, and chapter headings all aid in differentiating the two sections. Both ‘books’ are in limited third person perspective.
Horowitz is clearly a talented writer. The homage to the ladies of the Golden Age of Mysteries is solid, without feeling syrupy or arch. The modern section has an updated linguistic feel, more introspective and more philosophical about mystery books, murder, and puzzles. I did enjoy many of the musings/insights.
“It was as if my new life was an anagram of my old one and I would only learn what shape it had taken when I began to live it.”
It’s very good stuff, but I’d agree with lucky little cat’s assessment of two flaws: first, that it dragged a bit in the second half. I had thought that was me and my preference for the classic English manor mystery, but on further reflection, I’d say some of the sections could use cutting, particularly the relationship drama. Second, that the ‘puzzle’ at the very end seemed ill-fitting. I suppose it was about shock and coarseness, but it didn’t feel integrated with the tone of the remaining story.
There truly isn’t much more to be said without spoilers, but I’d say never fear, Horowitz will not disappoint. Give it a try.