Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie MurdersThe story: When she first starts reading the manuscript for crime writer Alan Conway’s latest novel, editor Susan Ryland has no idea what’s coming. On the surface, the new book is bestseller material – a vintage whodunit set in a quiet English village featuring Alan’s well-loved fictional private investigator, Atticus Pund. The book will change her life.

My thoughts: Magpie Murders has a totally unique format that I’ve never come across before. It is essentially a book within a book. The first half is Alan Conway’s fictional manuscript – which is pure Agatha Christie, a traditional whodunit in a quintessential English village, full of red herrings and suspicious characters.

I loved the traditional setting and that this half of the book is set in the 1950s – which creates a totally different atmosphere to most crime/detective novels that are set in the present day. This is back to the good old days of handprints under windows, squeaky bicycle wheels and big dramatic reveals. It’s comforting in a way, like settling in to watch an episode of your favourite period drama or (if you’re from the UK) Midsomer Murders.

The second half of the book is then the story of Susan and her attempts to get to the bottom of a real life mystery concerning Alan Conway (the fictional author), along with her realisation that the fictional novel may hold a deeper meaning and clues to help her solve her current conundrum.

I’m finding it hard to review this book without giving away spoilers, and I honestly think that it’s better as a reader to come at this book without knowing too much about it. I can say that I loved the way this book was written. It comes together on so many levels, with clues hidden within clues and hidden references throughout. If you love vintage crime, great mysteries and clever links, you’ll love this book.

In conclusion… All in all, this was a really enjoyable read from start to finish, and I can’t wait to read Anthony Horowitz’s next novel.

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How to Stop Time – Matt Haig

How to Stop TimeThe story: Tom Hazard, currently working as a teacher living in London, has spent his life hiding a secret – he was actually born in 1581. Tom has a condition that means that he ages so slowly that he has lived through many lifetimes. Now under the protection of others like him through the Albatross society, Tom is given all he needs to reinvent his identity every eight years. The only rule is never to fall in love.

But although Tom tries to stick to the rules, being back in the city where he was born brings back long forgotten memories and desires. He’s also been searching for something for a long time which seems to finally be within his reach.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written, and once I’d started I couldn’t put it down. I loved how Tom’s past was overlaid with the present throughout this book – over the centuries he’s been on a stage with Shakespeare, sailed with great explorers and drank in a bar in Paris with the Fitzgerald’s – and when he’s teaching his students history, he’s drawing on all his own personal experiences to really bring the past to life.

At first glance, he appears to have it all – he’s travelled the world, set up with everything he needs and has enjoyed all that the world has to offer.

But there are of course the inevitable problems. He’s watched loved ones die and been unable to stop it, he’s unable to for any meaningful attachments for fear of questions, and the mundane details of daily life become increasingly insignificant.

Threaded throughout the whole novel are little insights that make us think about what it means to be human.  It raises some really interesting questions – what is life without love and the people that surround us? Are existing and living the same thing?

The villain of the piece, Hendrich, the leader of the Albatross Society, is suitably dastardly and threatening, which keeps the pace moving along well and adds some additional drama to a story that otherwise may have run the risk of becoming a little bogged down in reflection and memories.

The subject matter and style really reminded me of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which I also loved. I’m not surprised to hear that there’s a film of this in the making, with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role. The skill of Haig’s writing means that in my head I can already imagine exactly how it will play out on screen, and I can’t wait to watch it.