EXCERPT: 23 July 1955
There was going to be a funeral.
The two gravediggers, old Jeff Weaver and his son, Adam had been out at first light and everything was ready, a grave dug to the exact proportions, the earth neatly piled to one side. The church of St. Botolph’s in Saxby-on-Avon had never looked lovelier, the morning sun glinting off the stained glass windows. The church dated back to the twelfth century although of course it had been rebuilt many times. The new grave was to the east, close to the ruins of the old chancel where the grass was allowed to grow wild and daisies and dandelions sprouted around the broken arches.
The village itself was quiet, the streets empty. The milkman had already made his deliveries and disappeared, the bottles rattling on the back of his van. The newspaper boys had done their rounds. This was a Saturday, so nobody would be going to work and it was still too early for the homeowners to begin their weekend chores. At nine o’clock, the village shop would open. The smell of bread, fresh out of the oven, was already seeping out of the baker’s shop next door. Their first customers would be arriving soon. Once breakfast was over, a chorus of lawnmowers would start up. It was July, the busiest time of the year for Saxby-on-Avon’s keen army of gardeners and with the Harvest Fair just a month away roses were already being pruned, marrows carefully measured. At half past one there was to be a cricket match on the village green. There would be an ice cream van, children playing, visitors having picnics in front of their cars. The tea shop would be open for business. A perfect summer’s afternoon.
ABOUT MAGPIE MURDERS: When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.
Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.
MY THOUGHTS: Magpie Murders is a book about a book and its author. I love it. I want to read it again, right now. It is fiendishly clever, inventive, compelling, and deliciously dark in its own twisty way. This is a book that will have you puzzling, scratching your head, and occasionally saying, ‘but of course!’ Magpie Murders is vastly different to anything that I have ever read before.
There are multiple references to Christie, anagrams and cryptic clues. I think that it would be impossible to read this book and not try to solve the mysteries, the murders as you read. There are plenty of red herrings (and even a publishing company called Red Herrings!), plenty of suspects.
There are characters to love, and characters you will love to hate. Everyone has secrets, some worth knowing, some not. But there is someone who knows all the secrets.
Susan Ryeland is the character who unites the two halves of this book. She is editor to the author of Magpie Murders, Alan Conway, a man she can’t stand. She has devoted her whole life to books, to bookshops, booksellers, and bookish people like her boss Charles Clover, owner and CEO of Cloverleaf Publishing, and her authors. She is starting to feel that by doing so, she has wound up like a book: on the shelf. She is at a crossroads in her life, with a new opportunity opening up for her. But will she take it?
I have always wondered how authors come up with their characters, how they round them out, make them realistic, relatable. Conway’s methods are explored in some detail, and are a little wicked.
I love Magpie Murders and will, at some point, be giving it a second read. I will also be buying myself a copy. There was not one word in this book that I didn’t enjoy.
Magpie Murders is #1 in the Susan Ryeland series.
THE AUTHOR: Anthony Horowitz’s life might have been copied from the pages of Charles Dickens or the Brothers Grimm. Born in 1956 in Stanmore, Middlesex, to a family of wealth and status, Anthony was raised by nannies, surrounded by servants and chauffeurs. His father, a wealthy businessman, was, says Mr. Horowitz, “a fixer for Harold Wilson.” What that means exactly is unclear — “My father was a very secretive man,” he says— so an aura of suspicion and mystery surrounds both the word and the man. As unlikely as it might seem, Anthony’s father, threatened with bankruptcy, withdrew all of his money from Swiss bank accounts in Zurich and deposited it in another account under a false name and then promptly died. His mother searched unsuccessfully for years in attempt to find the money, but it was never found. That too shaped Anthony’s view of things. Today he says, “I think the only thing to do with money is spend it.” His mother, whom he adored, eccentrically gave him a human skull for his 13th birthday. His grandmother, another Dickensian character, was mean-spirited and malevolent, a destructive force in his life. She was, he says, “a truly evil person”, his first and worst arch villain. “My sister and I danced on her grave when she died,” he now recalls.
A miserably unhappy and overweight child, Anthony had nowhere to turn for solace. “Family meals,” he recalls, “had calories running into the thousands&. I was an astoundingly large, round child&.” At the age of eight he was sent off to boarding school, a standard practice of the times and class in which he was raised. While being away from home came as an enormous relief, the school itself, Orley Farm, was a grand guignol horror with a headmaster who flogged the boys till they bled. “Once the headmaster told me to stand up in assembly and in front of the whole school said, ‘This boy is so stupid he will not be coming to Christmas games tomorrow.’ I have never totally recovered.” To relieve his misery and that of the other boys, he not unsurprisingly made up tales of astounding revenge and retribution.
Anthony Horowitz is perhaps the busiest writer in England. He has been writing since the age of eight, and professionally since the age of twenty. He writes in a comfortable shed in his garden for up to ten hours per day. In addition to the highly successful Alex Rider books, he has also written episodes of several popular TV crime series, including Poirot, Murder in Mind, Midsomer Murders and Murder Most Horrid. He has written a television series Foyle’s War, which recently aired in the United States, and he has written the libretto of a Broadway musical adapted from Dr. Seuss’s book, The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. His film script The Gathering has just finished production. And&oh yes&there are more Alex Rider novels in the works. Anthony has also written the Diamond Brothers series.
DISCLOSURE: I decided to read Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz because I have #2 in this series, Moonflower Murders, to read. I borrowed my copy from Waitomo District Library. Publishers Orion Books are also mentioned in Magpie Murders.
All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com
This review and others are also published on Twitter, Instagram and Goodreads.com