Two back-to-back surprising deaths send shockwaves to a sleepy community in a quaint English town. A quirky old detective with a heavy accent and a sidekick enter the scene with numerous suspects holding many secrets. Sound familiar? No, it’s not Agatha
Christie – it’s Anthony Horowitz and his book “Magpie Murders.” It is a traditional whodunit where all the clues are presented throughout the story and the reader is challenged to tie them together to solve the crime before the genius sleuth does the final reveal. The twist here is that Mr. Horowitz has taken the genre to a new level: it’s a whodunit within a whodunit.
For the set up, “Magpie Murders” is the new book by fictional megastar mystery writer Alan Conway, creator of the hit Atticus Pünd detective series. Alan writes in the style of Agatha Christie and uses many of her gimmicks, including basing the title and names of chapters on a nursery rhyme – in this case, the old nursery rhyme about magpies: One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret, Never to be told…. The editor, Susan Ryeland, has just received the draft of the book and has hunkered down with a glass of wine to read through it over the
weekend. For the next six chapters we are reading “Magpie Murders” along with Susan. The reader becomes engrossed in the story of two mysterious deaths at the old Pye Mansion in the fictional town of Saxon-on-Avon in the 1950s. The idiosyncratic detective Atticus Pünd is Jewish, of half German and half Greek lineage, who survived the concentration camps during World War II. He is known for being the best as he has solved many high-profile crimes. As he moves about the village interviewing the inhabitants, he uncovers many festering secrets, some that have been buried for years.
The Magpie Murders story is suddenly interrupted, and we are back with Susan who learns of an unexpected death in her world. It is ruled a suicide, but Susan has her suspicions. Using techniques she gleaned from editing the Atticus Pünd mysteries, she takes on solving the mystery.
After many red herrings in their respective stories, both mysteries are neatly solved. For mystery lovers, it’s a “two-fer” in one book.
Both mysteries take place in small towns; it appears Horowitz is making a statement about the people that inhabit them. Upon first look, it would appear that a country village is a tranquil place to live. Susan remarks that she “soon discovered that every time I made one friend I made three enemies and that arguments about such issues as car parking, the church bells, dog waste, and hanging flower baskets dominated daily life to such an extent that everyone was permanently at each other’s throats.” And, later: “Emotions which are quickly lost in the noise and chaos of the city fester around the
village square, driving people to psychosis and violence.” She reasons that, because people are so close to each other day after day, they tend to get on one another’s nerves more quickly. She reasons also that, because people know everyone else in a small village, they are more likely to be suspicious of each other. “Cities are anonymous but in a small, rural community everyone knows everyone, making it so much easier to create suspects and, for that matter, people to suspect them.” She suggests that these close-knit comm
unities create a web of suspicions, sometimes based more on gossip than hard fact.
atch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on
Monday, May 7. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, May 2 to discu
ss “Magpie Murders” at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.