Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is a mystery-within-a-mystery. To quote my favorite female cartoon character, Lisa Simpson, it is “…..a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest.”
I toyed with writing a book-review-within-a-book-review, to mirror the book’s format. But it seemed too challenging and I’m not actually convinced it worked for the book — so it definitely wouldn’t work for a book review. So much for being clever.
The first mystery is found in a manuscript written by the bestselling mystery author, Alan Conway. It is the ninth and final installment, in the Atticus Pund detective series, set in the 1950s in a sleepy little English village. It is very Agatha Christie-ish in style, with a cadre of suspects, all with plausible motives for the separate deaths of two townsfolk. An embittered sister; an angry Vicar; an adulterous wife; a guilt-ridden son; an alienated father; and a recently fired groundskeeper. It seems like all of Saxby-on-Avon is a suspect. The mystery is filled with all sorts of clues and red herrings.
We hear this story as it is read by Susan Ryeland, the literary agent for Conway’s publisher, Cloverleaf Books. However, just as Atticus Pund is about to reveal the killer, Susan discovers that the final two chapters are missing from the manuscript. And the author is dead. Susan finds herself caught up in a real-life mystery as to the missing chapters. Without trying to give too much away, Susan ends up playing an amateur detective trying to simultaneously solve two mysteries. Hence the mystery, within a mystery.
The premise is unique and, for the most part, successful. But it is terribly drawn out, and suffice it to say, I thought the ending fell a little flat. Here’s the real mystery — how do you keep your readers engaged when you embark on an all-too-similar-second mystery within the same book? By the time Susan discovers the missing chapters, I was so far removed from original Magpie Mystery murder, that I didn’t really care anymore. Furthermore, I expected the tie between the two mysteries to be a little more clever. Yes, Susan uses clues from the manuscript to help her solve the other mystery. And yes, there are some parallels between the two mysteries. However, it just didn’t come together for me at the end.
I will admit that I’m not a big reader of mysteries in general. So maybe this genre just isn’t my cup of tea. By looking at other reviews, I certainly seem to be in the minority on this one. So give it a read and let me know what you think.
Click below to find this mystery-within-a-mystery at a local bookstore: