Note: This review is by my husband Jim.
In one sense, Magpie Murders is a real bargain in that it is two books in one: a who-done-it about the writing and disposition of another who-done-it. In fact, the novel within the novel is produced in its entirety, although the reader must wait a fairly long time to read its final chapter.
The “base” story is about a female editor of a book publishing company whose most popular author has just submitted a new novel, the last chapter of which seems to be missing. That famous author then apparently commits suicide by jumping off the tower of his country estate. When our intrepid heroine goes to the estate to try to locate the final chapter of his novel, she encounters suspicious aspects to the “suicide” that leads her to investigate the death.
Along the way, the reader is treated to the 200+ page novel within the novel — and it is quite good in its own right. Since the main character of the base novel is an editor, she is able to include her observations of what makes a good mystery novel. Horowitz is a fan of the mystery genre, and he pays homage to several of its most competent and prolific practitioners. The final scene of the novel within the novel is particularly well crafted, with the brilliant detective doing his best Hercule Poirot imitation, tying numerous loose and seemingly unconnected threads together for a satisfying, and surprising, denouement.
One carp I have about the book is that the author violates one of his cardinal principles of a well-constructed who-done-it. He has his main character say that the author should not rely on coincidence to resolve the issues set up in the story. And yet, the heroine probably would never have solved the murder without a serendipitous encounter with a minor character at the very end of the book. In addition, there is a deus ex machina at the end that is, like any deus ex machina, both coincidental and fairly essential.
Evaluation: Magpie Murders is quite long for its genre. Nonetheless, it can be forgiven since, after all, it is two novels for the price of one.
Published in the U.S. by HarperColllins, 2017