Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

In my September review of The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, I concluded by saying: “If I read a better crime novel this year, I’d be very surprised.” Well, colour me surprised.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is such gloriously good fun. The only Horowitz I’ve read previously was the Alex Rider series as a teenager, which I ended up quitting when I just couldn’t take the ridiculousness anymore (I stuck around for the identical twin/clone drama, but never came back after Alex got blasted into space). On the other hand, Crime Traveller remains one of my favourite TV series of all time. I mean, come on. They travel back in time, to solve crime. It’s amazing.

So all things considered, I wasn’t sure what to expect going into Magpie Murders, beyond the wonderful-sounding premise. Editor Susan Ryeland settles down one weekend to read the newest manuscript by cosy crime author Alan Conway, little suspecting that the novel will change her life. I wasn’t expecting the book-within-a-book format – or at least assumed the “fictional” novel would be interspersed throughout the novel-proper. In fact, readers are treated to almost the entire Conway manuscript, centered around a string of suspicious deaths in a sleepy English village, before returning to the modern day again.

Horowitz’s 1950s Christie-style drama is as wonderfully written as the contemporary sections of the book, and had me longing to read a Marple or Poirot by the end. I was so smugly satisfied at having guessed the all-too-obvious conclusion, only to be proven utterly and entirely wrong – a feat both rare and entirely satisfying in crime fiction. The present-day segment centres around Conway’s mysterious death, and again contains all the hallmarks of a cosy crime – the list of suspects, the sleuth on the hunt for clues, and yet another excellent and unexpected resolution.

In the course of writing this review, I’ve bumped my rating up from a four to a rarely-awarded five. I can’t recommend Magpie Murders highly enough, and on its strength have added House of Silk and Moriarty to my to-read list – in the happy knowledge that Horowitz has far more up his sleeve than child-spies in space.

[Read from 11-16 October 2016]

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