I loved Agatha Christie mysteries as a kid, and Magpie Murders is styled in that vein with a fun twist: it’s a book within a book (for those of us who like our books with a side of…more books). Susan, an editor, is reading the ninth volume in a mystery series by her publishing company’s most famous (and perhaps not coincidentally, most irritating) author, and we get to read the manuscript along with Susan. Then we get to be eager spectators as Susan puts on her detective cap and investigates a murder herself. That’s a lot of murder for the price of one. What a bargain!
I was nervous to go with the audio version because I worried the two narratives would get confused in my head. I’m glad other readers convinced me to give it a try, because it wasn’t hard to follow at all. There isn’t much switching back and forth between the two storylines because most of the manuscript is delivered in one chunk, and the two narrators (one male, one female, both delightfully British) further differentiate them.
It had been a while since I read a classic mystery like this, so I will admit some of the tropes of the genre grated on my nerves. There were too many red herrings, requiring some of them to be unceremoniously brushed aside once proven untrue, which left me feeling manipulated and even annoyed when one of my favorite theories was explained away in particularly unconvincing fashion. The characters’ naivete also made my eye twitch a little bit. Without getting too spoiler-y, there was a moment late in the book when a character confronted another character who had committed a murder without seeming to realize the danger of doing so. Can you imagine telling a killer you know what they did and expecting it to be a polite conversation that ends with them shaking your hand and saying, “Ah, you got me old chap, now off I go to the police station to turn myself in”? I’m all for dramatic irony, but there’s a line between the satisfaction of knowing something a character doesn’t and wanting to backhand a simple bitch for their stupidity.
Those quibbles aside, Magpie Murders was a lively diversion and made for a nice addition to my creepy seasonal reading list. Just remember, kids, if you discover someone is a murderer, get police backup before blurting out what you know.