I think I’ve just listened to one of the most unexpected and pleasantly surprising books ever. Not surprising because I thought that the brilliant Anthony Horowitz could ever write anything bad; I downloaded this new book on faith without knowing much about it because I trusted that it would be good. A devoted Alex Rider fan before I moved on to the Raven’s Gate series and then to his adult Sherlock Holmes novels, I’ve never met a Horowitz book I didn’t like. However, I still wasn’t expecting this amazingly clever and razor sharp twist on the relatively clichéd and formulaic vintage crime classic, rendered all the more unique because of its “novel within a novel” concept. If Horowitz’s ability to write intelligent, original crime was ever in doubt, Magpie Murders just serves as further proof of his talent.
It all kicks off with a prologue in which Susan Ryeland, the editor of an extremely popular vintage crime series, receives the author’s latest manuscript, which is entitled Magpie Murders (not The Magpie Murders! It’ll make sense). She warns the reader that the manuscript’s contents and the events that have ensued as a result of her reading it have changed her life. Great! Perfect setup for a good crime novel. So, I settled myself down to hear all about it. What I was then not expecting was to spend the next four or five hours listening to the manuscript in full! I think I felt a little disgruntled at first because I wanted to “get on with the actual story” – before completely forgetting that there was any other story because this “fake” novel was so good in its own right! Deaths in mysterious circumstances, a cast of suspicious and secretive characters who all have their own reasons to want the victims dead and a brilliant, troubled private detective – a proper, solid whodunit with echoes of a good old Agatha Christie.
When the narrative is abruptly taken back up again by Susan in the real world, two things become apparent: the last few chapters of the novel are missing, and Alan Conway, the author, has committed suicide. Susan then gets sucked into an investigation, first to find the missing chapters and ensure the survival of the publishing house and then, as she becomes more suspicious, into Conway’s death, which bears intriguing and highly compelling similarities to the case in the author’s book. This second whodunit is brought bang up to date for the 21st century. Twists and revelations at every turn – some of which made me exclaim out loud. I dread to think what people think of me as I walk to work listening to audiobooks. People will be crossing the road to avoid me soon.
Anyway, not only was I completely drawn into the investigation (I suspected almost everyone at least twice, maybe excepting the person who actually did it in typical me style), but I also thoroughly enjoyed Horowitz’s insider depiction of the publishing world – the regular namedropping of famous authors and publishers lent it a great deal of authenticity. When the conclusion came, all I can say is that it was pure Anthony Horowitz – clever, acerbic and completely unexpected. Cosy crime it was most definitely not and, needless to say, I guessed none of it whatsoever. I didn’t even guess the murderer in Conway’s manuscript when it was finally revealed at the end.
Everybody has those authors that just click. Anthony Horowitz has been one of mine since I was about 10 years old. He understands what makes people tick and what captivates readers. Magpie Murders is no different – it is my favourite crime book of the year so far. Even with so much of 2017 still to go, I am confident that it won’t be knocked off a spot on my Top 10. Although I know I would have loved it in print form, I thoroughly enjoyed the audiobook performance – both the male and female narrator were equally expressive and, with such a large cast of characters spread across two novels, did very well to bring each individual character to life. Whether you listen to it or read it, do yourself a favour and put Magpie Murders on your crime reading list.
Star Rating: 5/5