Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz review – fiendish whodunnit

Horowitz channels Agatha Christie, with a rustic English setting, a tricksy book-within-a-book, and red herrings aplenty

Anthony Horowitz has ventriloquised Ian Fleming in Trigger Mortis. He’s taken on Arthur Conan Doyle in The House of Silk. And very well too. In Magpie Murders, Horowitz tries something a little different: he pastiches the cosy country murder stories of Agatha Christie, setting his whodunnit in the sleepy 1950s English village of Saxby-on-Avon, where the widely disliked Mary Blakiston has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in Pye Hall, the grand house where she worked as a housekeeper.

Except he doesn’t really do this at all. Blakiston’s death is a story within a story, the work of a crime novelist, one Alan Conway, whose vintage tales of murders solved by the wonderfully umlauted German detective Atticus Pünd regularly top the bestseller lists. Conway’s editor, Susan Ryeland, is Horowitz’s narrator as she settles down to read her author’s latest: “You can’t beat a good whodunnit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start.”

Horowitz then gives us 200-odd pages of Conway’s novel, stopping it just before Conway’s big reveal and jumping back to Susan, who finds herself investigating a murder mystery of her own. “I’ve been an editor for more than 20 years and this must be the only crime ever committed that an editor was born to solve,” she says, pleasingly.

It’s a lovely conceit, and Horowitz peppers his pages with clues and red herrings aplenty. He’s perhaps a little too good at ventriloquising his Christie rip-off novelist Conway, and the story takes a while to get going as we plough with Conway through the residents of Saxby-on-Avon and their potential guilt. But once it does, this is a fiendishly plotted crime novel, with a fabulous twist.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is published by Orion (£7.99). To order a copy for £6.79 go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99.


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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