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Book Review by Robin Widmar

“Magpie Murders”

In a literary world where thrillers and suspense novels dominate the mystery genre, ìMagpie Murders, A Novelî by Anthony Horowitz is touted as a refreshing return to the days when a murder mystery was a simple whodunit.Except this book is not quite that simple.The story opens in present day London. Editor Susan Ryeland has just received the latest manuscript from Alan Conway, author of a bestselling mystery series featuring detective Atticus P¸nd. This story is the backbone of ìMagpie Murdersî and we read Conwayís novel just like his editor does. It is literally a book within a book.However, Ryeland offers an ominous warning before launching into the manuscript. She explains the myriad ways this book changed her life (no longer living in London, out of a job, and many friends lost) and she blames it all on ìthat bastard Alan Conwayî and his book. ìUnlike me, you have been warned,î she says. It is a rather heavy-handed foreshadowing ploy, but it still entices the reader to turn the page.Conwayís ìMagpie Murdersî takes the reader to July 1955 and the quaint English village of Saxby-on-Avon. Preparations are under way for the funeral service and burial of Mary Blakiston, a woman known as both housekeeper for a wealthy lord and the town busybody. She died in an apparent accident involving an errant vacuum cleaner cord and her own clumsiness. But was her tumble down the stairs truly an accident?Speculations among the villagers ramp up a few days later when Sir Magnus Pye, Blakistonís employer, meets a rather gruesome end. With two unexpected deaths in the same manor, private detective P¸nd decides to investigate.The residents of Saxby-on-Avon seem to be an ordinary lot. But as P¸ndís inquiry progresses, layers are peeled back and it seems that everyone is hiding something. Although praised for her contributions to the community, Mary Blakiston had dirt on just about everyone. The antique store owner has a sketchy past. Sir Pyeís wife has a lover. Blakistonís own son is haunted by a childhood tragedy. Even the vicar and his wife enjoy a pastime that would surely raise a few parishioner eyebrows if it was publicly known.In true whodunit fashion, there is an enticing list of potential suspects and a fishing netís worth of red herrings. However, the process of solving a murder in 1950s England feels a little slow at times. After all, we are used to living in a time when detectives can glean a lot of information instantly from the internet, and the tiniest pieces of evidence can be analyzed with an array of high-tech forensic tools. However, Horowitz covers investigative ground in a pleasant manner that keeps the story moving along. Clues are deciphered, the suspect list is whittled down and P¸nd is ready to announce the killer.†And thatís where the manuscript ends. The last three chapters are missing.Ryeland doesnít know if her office staff miscopied the manuscript or if Conway is just being a jerk by leaving out the ending. Before she can find out, the cantankerous Conway suddenly dies. Much like the housekeeper in his manuscript, questions arise about the manner of his death: Was it suicide, accident or murder? Ryeland morphs from editor to the kind of amateur sleuth sheís only read about. However, the information she uncovers complicates her work life, snarls her personal life and ultimately lands her in a life-or-death situation.In the end, ìMagpie Murders: A Novelî wraps up the way Ryeland likes her mysteries: ìÖ The twists and turns, the clues and red herrings and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadnít seen it from the start.î And those statements Ryeland made about the book changing her life? They were not an exaggeration.Horowitz is a masterful storyteller who infuses his tale with authentic dialogue, well-developed characters and descriptive prose that make it easy to feel at home in both times and places. The depth of detail in Conwayís manuscript goes down to cover blurbs and previously published titles. Readers may kick themselves for not being able to figure out who the killer is, but fans of murder mysteries will likely kick themselves more if they miss out on reading this book.

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