Magpie Murders is not your ordinary murder-mystery novel. In Horowitz’ own words, it is a ‘a whodunnit novel within a whodunnit novel.’ Anthony Horowitz has been ‘writing murders’ for decades: whether you know his writing from his Sherlock Holmes novels, Midsomer Murders, or the Alex Rider franchise, you’ll know that it’s a subject he’s well versed in.
Lit only by candlelight, in the atmospheric and secluded venue that is The Caves, the writer spoke about how this book engages with the popular genre. He asked us: what is it about murder-mystery novels that allows a fascination with violent death to be socially acceptable?
The novel details editor Susan Ryeland’s relationship with the manuscript of writer Alan Conway: famed for the creation of Atticus Pund, a crime-solver in the 1950s English countryside. She finds lurking between the lines of the manuscript a bloody mystery of its own.
Comparisons with Pund are quick to spring to the mind: Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple, for instance. But Horowitz is quick to point out that although there are elements of pastiche in the novel, it sets up these familiar figures in order to destabilize the foundations beneath them.
Magpie Murders examines the relationship between writer and character: Horowitz refers to Holmes and Bond for examples of this complicated relationship, characters sufficiently disliked to be killed off by their creators.
The relationship between the writer and editor is also examined. It is the added layer provided by Susan Ryeland’s narration that breathes a very unique life force into Magpie Murders. Horowitz spoke about how he wanted to use this extra layer to open up questions about the relationship between the publishing industry and writing. As fellow English Literature students will be painfully aware, the industry is wondering with increasing urgency who is interested in buying books.
I was sufficiently interested in this one to pick up a copy at the end of the talk. Magpie Murders is not only a novel that engages with the fascination surrounding its own genre; Horowitz promises that the novel has much more to give. If the frequent laughter from the audience indicated the truth of Horowitz’ ending statement, what also lies at the core of Magpie Murders is a fun and fascinating puzzle for the reader to solve.
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Orion, 2016)
Photo credit: Diego Grez