A mys­tery of sim­ple themes and an in­tri­cate so­lu­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL - By Muriel Dob­bin Muriel Dob­bin is a for­mer White House and na­tional po­lit­i­cal re­porter for McClatchy news­pa­pers and the Bal­ti­more Sun.

THE MAG­PIE MUR­DERS By Anthony Horowitz Harper, $27.99, 496 pages

The ghost of Agatha Christie hov­ers over “The Mag­pie Mur­ders,” Anthony Horowitz’s dark and deft mys­tery. It is not a thriller, it is too clever for that.

The im­age of mag­pies clus­tered in a tree is the kind of gen­tly ghoul­ish hu­mor that char­ac­ter­ized Christie’s work, yet this is a much more com­pli­cated and so­phis­ti­cated por­trayal of her fa­vorite topic of death and sin in a small vil­lage. And its dou­ble­bar­reled plot fur­ther com­pli­cates the scene.

It is more of what used too be called a closed door mys­tery where an­swers are clouded and the un­ex­pected be­comes the in­evitable. Mr. Horow­itzh’s lit­er­ary skills in this field are long es­tab­lished and his rep­u­ta­tion is no­table for his bril­liant work in the tele­vi­sion se­ries “Foyle’s War” and his con­tri­bu­tions to the wildly pop­u­lar “Mid­somer Mur­ders” TV se­ries. He is par­tic­u­larly good at pro­ject­ing at­mos­phere as in the re­ac­tion to war on the part of the gen­eral pub­lic in World War II and his con­jur­ing up of the sin­is­ter amidst the sim­plic­ity of idyl­lic English towns touched by mur­der — usu­ally more than one.

In this collection there is a for­mi­da­ble ar­ray of char­ac­ters, from the ec­cen­tric de­tec­tive At­ti­cus Pund and his echoes of Her­cule Poirot to Su­san Rye­land, a lit­er­ary agent trapped in an un­ex­pected peril in her work. The deaths are also Agatha Christie-like, from the nasty vil­lage squire whose head gets cut off to his bit­ter sis­ter de­prived of her birthright and the in­quis­i­tive house­keeper whose body is found at the foot of the stairs in the an­ces­tral man­sion The man­sion is called Pye Hall, which is an­other Christie touch. As is the name of the vil­lage, Saxby on Avon.

Com­pli­ca­tions abound, as when the de­tec­tive dis­cov­ers that he is dy­ing of can­cer and that the case of the house­keeper in Pye Hall will be his last case. He is busy com­plet­ing the notes in which he names the mur­derer when he dies in a fall from the roof of his pala­tial home, or was he pushed? The reader has to pay at­ten­tion be­cause un­rav­el­ing the web of who did what to whom roams from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter and many doubts about their cred­i­bil­ity. Not only whether they are telling the truth but whether they are who they say they are.

In “The Mag­pie Mur­ders” there is even the tragedy of a dead dog whose bru­tal pass­ing by hav­ing its throat cut is more than enough to darken the lives of two chil­dren. One of the chil­dren turns out to be pos­si­bly in­sane as well as homi­ci­dal, but that is one of the se­crets lurk­ing in the shad­ows of the book’s de­noue­ment.

Su­san Rye­land, the hap­less lit­er­ary agent who is ac­cus­tomed to deal­ing with killings on a com­puter or a type­writer finds her­self im­per­iled in a mat­ter she never ex­pected, with dan­ger lurk­ing far closer to her home than she might have ex­pected. Mr. Horowitz is not a sim­ple writer and this is no sim­ple mys­tery, but it is most en­joy­able to read and its con­clu­sions never dis­ap­point. Per­haps the only prob­lem is try­ing to keep up with the plot which is like in­ves­ti­gat­ing a spi­der web..

It is ob­vi­ous that the au­thor rel­ishes the wicked twists with which he em­bel­lishes his plot and his writ­ing re­calls what used to be dubbed the golden age of mys­tery when writ­ers such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Say­ers flour­ished.

It is probably safe to say that Christie would have ap­pre­ci­ated Mr. Horowitz’s use of her por­trayal of an up­dated Eng­land and would have en­joyed his smooth and dark hu­mor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.