I was in the mood for some light reading, and thought a cozy mystery might hit the spot. Browsing the aisles of my favorite bookstore, A Murder of Magpies jumped out at me. The cover art pops – robin’s egg blue background with bright orange birds (magpies, I assume) perched above a typewriter. It certainly looked like a light-hearted mystery, and the back cover made claims of wittiness and humor. Perfect.
I was feeling a bit under the weather when I started reading. Thus, I can’t entirely blame the book for my mind continually wandering. Then again…
The main character is Sam, an editor working on a fashion-industry tell-all. When the author of this tell-all disappears, Sam is soon drawn into a convoluted case that could be missing person, murder, money laundering, or stalker, in essence. Quite predictably, the main character begins some minor investigations of her own. Her mother, a high-powered lawyer, helps her out; including a little mother-daughter breaking and entering. How many lawyers do you know getting down with light B&E on the weekends? With their daughters?* Of course, there is also an actual member of the police force on the case, or cases, or whatever is going on… He’s on the job, and in more ways than one. Without preamble the lead Inspector becomes romantically involved with Sam. Although this type of liaison is common enough in the mystery genre, their relationship comes out of nowhere. One minute they have a few polite interactions, then the next they are sleeping together, and within one or two hook-ups the main character is already having commitment issues and they sort of have “the talk” to define their relationship. It’s weird.
Okay, so here is where my review gets a little messy; as messy as the plot. There are all these sub-plots that have no bearing on the main mystery. In addition to the sudden romance, there are story lines with Sam’s neighbors, with coworkers and industry acquaintances, and a plot line between Sam and her biggest author who wrote a chic-lit book of questionable quality. There is little reason for these sub-plots to cross paths, or in some cases, for them to exist at all. For example, at one point Sam goes to visit her chic-lit author. During the visit, she shares some of the details of the mystery with the author and her husband. Their sole response is to suggest to Sam that she should not trust someone from one of the other sub-plots – an elderly agoraphobic neighbor whom the author and husband have never met, and have no reasonable cause to mistrust. Presumably, Judith Flanders threw in the chic-lit author for the primary purpose of introducing a red herring into the story. However, she chose as her red herring, arguably, the most unlikely character for the job – someone with no connection to the main mystery. Furthermore, it turns out that the agoraphobic neighbor was at one time a well-known architect. And one of the plot lines from the main mystery is related to money laundering through bad real estate deals. It would have been cleaner to hint that the agoraphobic neighbor may have been involved with shady real estate practices back in his architectural career. The chic-lit author sub-plot could have been omitted altogether.
I don’t want to spoil the ending. It can do that for itself, after all. I will say that once the actual crime is revealed, the motivation for it remains elusive. Further, it doesn’t really tie into what I thought was the main plot of the book.
It is all utterly, confusingly, random.
While we’re on the topic of random… After finishing the book, I realized I had no idea what the title had to do with the story. It made me question if I was, in fact, under the weather, or if I had come down with a full blown cold that was addling my brain. So I jumped online for some answers, because I typically find the Internet is chalk-full of ’em. I was pleased to see that other reviewers also took issue with the great mystery of the title that has no connection to the book upon which it is affixed. Thanks, Internet!
This book about an editor could use some editing; as if it was published one or two drafts shy of final copy. It wasn’t terrible. It also wasn’t funny. I would call this book mildly amusing. If you’re at home, under the weather, looking for a book that doesn’t require you to think too hard, you might enjoy it.
* Mom, in case you’re reading this post, please don’t get any bright ideas. I may be the Ethel to your Lucy, but I draw the line at burgling. Probably.