Susan is the editor of a bestselling detective series called the “Atticus Pund” mysteries. At the start of Magpie Murders Susan describes how she sat down to edit the latest manuscript in the series, only to have her life change completely. Susan addresses the reader directly, ominously stating: “Unlike me, you have been warned”.
From there the book jumps straight into the manuscript Susan was editing – also called the “Magpie Murders”, but written by the fictional character, author Alan Conway. The manuscript seems to be presented in its entirety, complete with the title page, the “About the Author” page, and so on, much as you might find at the start of any novel.
It’s a book within a book. A mystery shrouded in mystery. The first half of this book is the manuscript Susan was editing. It’s a quintessential cozy murder mystery set in a quaint English village. It will hook you, and afterwards you’ll be drawn right back out into Susan’s world; pulled into another murder mystery surrounding the manuscript and the author.
The creative framework for this book within a book is expertly executed. It’s not just done for dramatic effect, the two stories feel interconnected. Susan draws connections from the manuscript to the “real life” mystery she finds herself in. I appreciated that every detail seemed to have a purpose, either as a clue or red herring.
The only minuscule drawback was that I found Susan’s mystery a little predictable. However, I did not solve the mystery within the manuscript. So even with the slight predictability of Susan’s story line, I found myself absolutely delighted by the manuscript. Overall, the creative structuring really worked, and kept me guessing.
In those very first pages, before the manuscript begins, Susan says:
“As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start”.
Horowitz manages to hit all those classic elements of a whodunnit, in a playful way. The two story lines (Susan’s, and the story within the manuscript) are twisty, and the creative structuring of the novel overall adds to the twists and turns. It’s discombobulating (in the best possible way) to become so fully immersed in the manuscript then, halfway through the book, jump back into a different story altogether. The cozy mystery within the framework of another mystery makes the book feel both classic and contemporary. It’s a modern take on the murder mystery novel, with a respectful nod to the time-honored traditions of the genre.
If you enjoy murder mysteries, especially of the quaint English village variety, you’ll want to add this to your Fall reading list right away!