Most ‘book within a book’ books are fragments that whet an appetite that will never be satisfied. Not so with Anthony Horowitz, who delivers a complete book within his newest mystery Magpie Murders. To make it even more fun, the title of the book within Magpie Murders is Magpie Murders.
Susan Ryland is the editor of Alan Conway’s Atticus Pünd series, nine mysteries featuring the famed detective, a Greco-German Holocaust survivor living in England. Like all cozy detectives, he had a somewhat hapless assistant and went around solving crimes. This ninth installment in the series was to be his last as he was dying of cancer. Ryland reads the manuscript to the point where the Pünd declares he knows whodunnit. But then the rest of the manuscript is missing. Worse, the author has committed suicide.
Determined to find the final chapter, Ryland begins to dig around and comes to suspect that Conway’s suicide was actually a murder. She finds that detecting is not nearly so easy as it seems in the books. Her clues don’t stack up as neatly and people are not nearly so cooperative. The contrast between her experience and Pünd’s is an amusing exploration of the tropes of classical mystery fiction.
I loved Magpie Murders and finished it far sooner than I planned. I have all these books I have committed to read and review that are going to be published in early May and Magpie Murders won’t be published until June, so I really should be reading the others. I also have a book due at the library next week. But instead I was reading Magpie Murders because I could not put it down. I love the subtle, but loving, sendup of classic mysteries. Yes, Horowitz is making fun of the tropes, but out of fondness, not dislike. I loved the wordplay and puzzles. I like the classics and it was fun to read a classic within a classic, because even the parenthetic mystery is a classic of the amateur cozy genre.
This is a book written by a reader, a reader who loves mysteries. There is a description of the awful paradox of the mystery reader whose pages of the left are getting thicker and pages on the right getting thinner, the eager anticipation of finally knowing the solution at war with the awful recognition that the book will soon be over–a description familiar to mystery readers everywhere. I often felt real fellowship with the narrator, Susan Ryland. Horowitz did a great job of creating a different voice for Ryland and Conway, but also for Conway as a “literary” writer and for another writer whose work Conway stole.
Really, everything about this book was good except for one thing….I wish Horowitz have broken up the first six chapters of the book within a book, maybe in the middle, Susan could make herself a cup of coffee and guess who she suspects at that stage. After all, we readers do that, we review some of the suspects and try to guess where we are going. We just have one short chapter with Susan, then the long stretch of the mystery novel she’s editing, and then back to her, with some other narratives, a letter, a manuscript, and so on. It’s only because it was a bit disconcerting to have left her behind for so long while we read the book within the book.
Magpie Murders will be released June 6th. I was provided an Advance Readers Copy by the publisher through Shelf Awareness.