I love a good mystery. That's why I read so many of them. What I don't like is gimmicky mysteries. I especially don't like mystery writers who don't play fair; who use tricks, games, wordplay like anagrams, etc., to mislead and misdirect their readers.
I'm looking at you, Anthony Horowitz. I am most seriously displeased.
I had had Magpie Murders in my reading queue for months, but decided to read it now because of a television show.
We had just finished watching the third and final season of Mackenzie Crook's wonderful gentle comedy about metal detecting, Detectorists, in which magpies play a major part in the plot. Can you say "serendipity"? It seemed the universe was sending me a message so I decided to get on with it and read the book. I had read mostly glowing reviews and my expectations were high.
At the beginning of the book, we meet book editor Susan Ryeland who has a new book from her publishing house's most popular author to read. That writer is Alan Conway and he writes a very successful mystery series featuring detective Atticus Pünd. She starts reading the manuscript of the new book and we read along with her.
I was perfectly happy with this mystery and quickly burrowed into the small village atmosphere, following clues, sniffing out red herrings, trying to zero in on a suspect. It was a nice homage to the sainted Agatha. I cut my reader's teeth reading her books, so this was a trip down memory lane for me.
Then, halfway through the book, the manuscript ended. The problem was that there were pages missing - the important final pages that identified the killer and gave the denouement. The editor, Susan, set about trying to find the missing pages. But in the interim, the author Alan Conway has died, apparently as a result of suicide, and Susan doesn't have a clue as to where the missing pages may be.
As she looks for them, she finds herself examining the life of Alan Conway and the known facts about his death. The result is that she becomes convinced that his death was not suicide but murder and she sets about trying to solve that mystery. She intuits that there are clues hidden in that manuscript she was reading.
And so we get the gimmick of a mystery within a mystery. But that is just the beginning; we also have tricks, games, anagrams to solve. Horowitz pulls out every trick in his considerable bag of them and proudly spreads them all out for us to admire.
Much of this book seemed self-referential. Susan Wyeland seemed like a stand-in for Anthony Horowitz, and she was, frankly, unconvincing as a woman. Throughout, there are all these little asides referring to things that Horowitz has worked on. At one point, Susan mentions that a particular character has watched every episode of Poirot and Midsomer Murders. Well, me, too. In fact that is where I first encountered Horowitz and grew to admire his work as a screenwriter.
Magpie Murders seemed like the tongue-in-cheek creation of a writer eager to show off his cleverness and wow us with his literary connections. It did not seem like a work written with a reader in mind, a reader who the writer wanted to entertain. And, in the end, I wasn't.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars