Caveat: I received this book free from the publisher, courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Anthony Horowitz… creator of Alex Rider and Christopher Foyle, writer for Midsomer Murders from its inception, trusted with the legacy of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. If you were ever looking for a safe pair of hands for a light-hearted, entertaining detective novel, Anthony Horowitz is it!
His two recent (currently unconnected but very similar) series of books are very much a writerly book: Magpie Murders, to which this novel is the sequel, and The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death both play with the publishing world’s interaction with the real life crimes that it fictionalises. In Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders, our protagonist is Susan Ryeland, the publisher of the fictional Atticus Pund novels; in The Word is Murder series, a fictionalised Anthony Horowitz himself is the bumbling Doctor Watson character. I am waiting for some form of crossover as both series populate the same literary universe, so, Anthony, if you ever read this…
Anyway, back to this novel. Susan Ryeland narrowly escaped Magpie Murders with her life and that novel brought her career and her life in England to a close as she headed off to Crete with her boyfriend Andreas to start life running a hotel. It sounded as if that would be a one-off standalone novel. But here, we catch up with Susan two years later, a little jaded, missing her literary life, missing England, frustrated and worried about money when Lawrence and Pauline Treherne walked into her hotel bar and invited her back to England to find their daughter Cecily who has been missing for a week.
Why Susan? Because Alan Conway – the author of the Atticus Pund series of novels and initial victim in Magpie Murders – had written a book some eight years previously based on a murder that had taken place at the Treherne’s hotel, and Cecily’s disappearance coincided with her apparent discovery of the true murderer which had been hidden within that book which Susan had published. A discovery which might have uncovered a massive injustice as Stefan Codrescu, an ex-convict and employee at the hotel, had been arrested and pleaded guilty eight years ago.
Does her involvement stretch my suspension of disbelief? Well, yes a little. Did I care? Not at all. Within a matter of pages, Susan had packed her bags, fled back to England and set herself up in a suite of rooms at Branlow Hall, the Trehernes’ hotel, ready to investigate. And as you’d expect we get a range of suspicious characters introduced: Lisa, Cecily’s sister who bears a scar left on her lip after Cecily threw a knife at her as a child; Aiden MacNeil, Cecily’s husband of eight years, whose marriage to Cecily had been interrupted by the murder; Eloise Radmani, Aiden and Cecily’s nanny who looks after their daughter Roxana; Derek Endicott, the vulnerable, overweight Night Manager of the hotel, who lives with his invalid mother; Martin and Joanne Williams, the sister and brother-in-law of Frank Parris who was the murder victim eight years previously.
It is a cast of characters out of an Agatha Christie or a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel – or a Midsomer Murders episode – and that is no surprise: the novel is a celebration of those Golden Age detective novels! They are perhaps a little two-dimensional and could have done with a little more fleshing out before the novel moved on – it does crack on at a lightning pace after spending only a few pages with a character at times – and I found myself not quite connecting name to character a few times and having to flick back and forth a few times. Maybe that says something more about me and my memory though!
The unique part of this novel, though, as with Magpie Murders is the novel-within-a-novel format where, having met all the Branlow Hall characters, we disappear into Alan Conway’s novel Atticus Pund Takes The Case which had been based on the murder at Branlow Hall – and in which Cecily had apparently discovered the truth. It was a tad jarring to switch from the twenty-first century to the post-war years, but it was a blast to see Horowitz throwing himself whole-heartedly into a pastiche of that Golden Age – Pund bears an obvious comparison with Poirot! Not to mention the detective’s eye as we copy Susan, looking to see how the events and characters in the Trehernes’ Suffolk hotel are reinterpreted in Conway’s Devon hotel in 1953.
The solution is wonderful too: Susan having railed against the gathering of suspects in the library scene finds herself (somewhat inadvertently) having gathered the suspects in the lounge of Branlow Hall at the end of this book! And the identity of the killer was a satisfying reveal – all the clues were there, in both the real world (at least the real world of Horowitz’ novel) and in Alan Conway’s novel and I was kicking myself for not spotting all of them.
On a small note, this is the second novel read recently after Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, where there is a heavy object falls from a high place, with potentially fatal consequences. And in my memory I seem to recall an episode of Midsomer Murders – it seems in my mind to have had Richard Briars in it, which would have made it the pilot episode, The Killings at Badger’s Drift, adapted by Horowitz from the novel – where masonry falls from the church, nearly killing Barnaby?
Anyway, in conclusion, this was a lovely, clever, twisty novel – an ideal escapist fun read.
I do hope that there are further installments to come!
Plot / Pace:
Publisher: Century, Penguin
Date: 20th August 2020