If anyone could be expected to play well with the murder mystery genre, it would be Anthony Horowitz, novelist and screenwriter for the likes of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders, not to mention (though of course I am doing just that) eleven episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. And play with the genre is precisely what Horowitz does with the Magpie Murders. In The Elements of Mystery Fiction, William Tapply provides budding mystery writers with a list of no-nos—the not so obvious pitfalls of poor detective fiction. Horowitz might have read and certainly must have enjoyed tinkering with nearly each of Tapply’s taboos. If the golden rule of mystery fiction is to keep the “whodunit” question central to the story; Magpies doubles down the dare, nesting murder within murder in a way that you will only be able to wrap your head around when you are halfway through his novel. “Who did it” is secondary to finding out what actually happened to whom, or to what, and in which story. If that sounds confusing, you’ll be surprised at how easily you are lured along page by page until you are finally jolted into remembering what you knew from the beginning. Unlike Tapply, who doesn’t like foreshadowing tricks—what he calls the “little-did-I-know” device that “betrays the insecurity of the writer who doesn’t trust his own story to tug his readers forward”—Horowitz’s protagonist brazenly begins her story by warning the reader that Magpie Murders is nothing like a good whodunit. “I hope I don’t need to spell it out any more . . . you’ve been warned”. But of course, the ‘real’ Magpie Murders is every bit a good story with the “twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings” you’d expect from mystery fiction – just perhaps not in the way you expect to encounter them. It’s a treat for the genre fan who enjoys watching a master of fictional murder play with the rules of the game. Enjoy! I did!
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (and Alan Conway).
The Elements of Mystery Fiction: Writing the Modern Whodunit, by William G. Tapply