For those who love mysteries—and I very much belong in this category— Magpie Murders is a double treat. It is a mystery within a mystery, a classic whodunit (short for “Who [has] done it?”) within a whodunit. Agatha Christie was the undisputed queen of this genre, and I find her books absolutely riveting and impossible to put down until the end, when the detective finally reveals the murderer. I have always wished she was still alive and writing, so I wouldn’t have to make do by re-reading her books over and over again.
This is why I was delighted to come across Magpie Murders. Not only did it provide twice the thrill by being a book within a book, it had also one of the most innovative plot lines I have come across so far. A book editor of a publishing company, Susan Ryeland, is given the manuscript of the latest book by their most successful author, Alan Conway. The name of the book is Magpie Murders, and it is the ninth book in his widely popular crime series that is modeled almost entirely on Agatha Christie books—they also feature a Poirot-like detective and are set in small English villages in the 1950s. While Susan dislikes Alan Conway as a person, she loves his books and starts reading the manuscript. It is reproduced in full, and we are reading it with her. This is the “inside” book, and it is every bit as riveting as any Agatha Christie mystery, just as well-written, just as suspenseful, just as impossible to put down.
Therefore imagine her agony, as well as ours, when she comes to the end of the manuscript and finds that it is not complete! This is just before the big reveal when the detective gathers all the suspects and presents the solution to the mystery with a flourish. Needless to say, she can’t wait to get hold of Alan Conway to find out what happens. But then it turns out that he has died, ostensibly from suicide, going by the letter he sent to her boss, the head of the publishing company. In a quest to find the missing chapters of the manuscript, not just for her company but also to get the solution to the mystery in the book, Susan dig deeper and becomes increasingly convinced that Alan may have been died of murder rather than suicide.
This is the “outer” mystery, and while it is set in contemporary times and therefore easier to relate to, I have to admit that I didn’t find as gripping as the inner Agatha Christie-like mystery in the fictional book that Alan Conway wrote. Thankfully, Susan finds the missing end chapters of the inside book, so we find the answer to that mystery. And of course, by the end of the book, we get to know the mystery behind Alan Conway’s death as well.
The fictional Alan Convoy’s fictional book was so good, and such a terrific stand-in for Agatha Christie fans, that I wish Anthony Horowitz would keep writing these books in addition to the other books he writes.
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Publication Date: June 2017
Contributor: Lachmi Khemlani runs a technology publication in the San Francisco Bay Area.