This is a very cleverly constructed story that uses a book-within-a-book format to pay homage to old style murder mysteries. In a brief prologue, we meet editor Susan Ryeland as she prepares to spend her weekend reading the latest manuscript from Alan Conway.
He’s not her favourite person but she’s a huge fan of his best sellers featuring MC Atticus Pünd. And in her hot little hands is “Magpie Murders”, the final book in the series.
From this point, we’re transported back to 1955 & spend the first half of the book immersed in Pünd’s world. He’s a private investigator of German extraction who assists police with their trickier cases. As Conway’s story begins, Atticus & his assistant James Fraser leave London to investigate disturbing events in the village of Saxby-on-Avon.
I don’t want to give away the plot but if you’re a fan of Agatha Christie, you’re in for a treat. It’s clearly an homage to the golden age of Manor house murder mysteries & the author has ticked all the boxes. You have suspicious deaths, eccentric characters with hidden pasts, old grudges & secrets & one very nosy neighbour who seems to know them all. Oh….and that missing bottle of poison. Saxby-on-Avon is the perfect setting, a quaint english village that seems right out of an episode of Miss Marple. Completing the picture is Pünd. He’s a soft spoken, courtly man with more than his fair share of “little grey cells” & is an outsider like Christie’s other famous sleuth.
I got so wrapped up in Pünd’s investigation that I forgot about the prologue. Suddenly we’re back in the real world with Susan & she’s just as shocked as we are by the last page of Conway’s manuscript. Again, no spoilers, but events in the present soon find her morphing into a modern day Miss Marple & there are clever parallels to the time we spent in Saxby-on-Avon.
Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, the story itself flows smoothly & the many layers make for an enjoyable read. The only quibble I have is the amount of time it takes Susan to solve her own mystery. It bogged down a bit around the 3/4 mark before picking up again for an eventful finish. But it’s entirely in keeping with the style & in a nice twist, mirrors Pünd’s method of investigation.
It’s a book about books for those who love them & there are many literary references as well as tidbits about the world of publishing. It’s a smart read that’s meant to be savoured & will test your own powers of deduction. Just don’t be surprised if Pünd kicks your butt.