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by Anthony Horowitz
Harper, June 2017
464 pages
ISBN: 0062645226

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Among viewers of mystery fiction and television, Londoner Anthony Horowitz is a household name, or should be. His critically acclaimed novels MORIARTY and THE HOUSE OF SILK were authorized by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his television writing includes Foyle's War, Midsomer Murders (both of which he created) and Poirot. Horowitz's mysteries are also intriguingly metafictional. While Moriarty rehabilitates Athley Jones (a minor Doyle character whom Holmes rightly thinks a total idiot) as the ultimate close-reader-turned-crimesolver, Trigger Mortis bring back Bond by cannibalizing an unpublished story by Bond creator Ian Fleming.

Now, even more meta is Horowitz's latest, MAGPIE MURDERS.

A mystery-within-a-mystery, MAGPIE MURDERS begins in London's Crouch End, where fortysomething small-press commissioning editor Susan Ryeland is settling down to read MAGPIE MURDERS, the newest manuscript by her company, Cloverleaf Books's, only bestselling author, the cantankerous Agatha Christie pastiche generator Alan Conway. She enjoys Conway's books, along with Christie originals. She needs a space for good old manor-house whodunnits, with no reason to exist except the suspenseful entertainment of the general reader. Mystery for mystery's sake, as Oscar Wilde didn't put it.

Granted, this isn't just a book about a reader reading. Quickly, Horowitz shifts to Conway's manuscript, which is presented in double-space 12-point Courier, like a real manuscript. It's a good one: easy to get lost in. One chapter in, this reviewer had forgotten Susan Ryeland's name. Two more, and that protagonist was forgotten altogether.

Ryeland comes back, though, to learn that two calamities have occurred. The lesser one is that Alan Conway has died, in what Ryeland considers suspicious circumstances. He's left some clues, too; perhaps in code–in his manuscript.

And the greater catastrophe? That the final chapters of Conway's MAGPIE MURDERS are missing from the manuscript. To solve this mystery, Ryeland suspects, she needs to find the final chapters. Or perhaps, to find those chapters, she needs to identify the murderer. Her mixed motives raise interesting questions. How far will a reader go to find out how the story ends? And why should we care that much, when we know, once we lift our eyes from the pages, that the murders, the motives, the people, aren't real?

MAGPIE MURDERS is a riveting read, one which will delight both the recreational reader (like Susan Ryeland, in her own description) and the one who wants to investigate why we read murder mysteries; to ask what it is about them that proves so captivating, particularly when they are as well written as Horowitz's MAGPIE MURDERS, or "Conway's" for that matter.

§ Rebecca Nesvet is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay. She specializes in nineteenth-century literature. https://uwgb.academia.edu/RebeccaNesvet

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, March 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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