The genius of Anthony Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders,” two books I read back-to-back recently for book club, is that they’re ostensibly complex — murder mysteries within murder mysteries, with overt and obscure connections — but effortlessly transliterated. Both novels provide intricately-plotted parallel stories that twist around each other like the double helix of a DNA strand: Susan Ryeland, literary editor extraordinaire, stars in the “real life” narrative; and Alan Conway’s fictional creation, the German-born private investigator Atticus Pund, is the other lead. The books involve Susan unlocking the parallels between Pund’s fictional investigations and a real world mystery.
“Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders” are love letters to the golden age of crime fiction, the Agatha Christie era, when the number of red-herrings matched the page-count, and everyone was a suspect, if not of the actual murder, then of some other act of maleficence. The cases themselves are relatively simple, albeit populated by a dense cast: the layering of one mystery atop another adds the veneer complexity.
“Moonflower Murders” is a direct sequel to “Magpie Murders,” with Susan retired from publishing and running a small hotel on a Greek island with her boyfriend. But she misses her literary life in London, and jumps at the opportunity to assist the Trehernes. Years ago, a murder took place the same day as their daughter’s wedding, in their family-owned hotel, when author Alan Grant was a guest. She is now missing. Before she disappeared she believed she unlocked clues in the novel “Atticus Pund Takes the Case” that suggest the wrong man was arrested. The Trehernes want Susan to spot what their daughter did in Grant’s novel, which will hopefully lead to her discovery.
Though the connection to another Atticus Pund novel is rather more tenuous and coincidental than in “Magpie Murders,” when the “real life” murder was in fact Alan Grant’s, “Moonflower Murders” is a brick-sized, compulsively readable page-turner. Horowitz is quite brilliant at playing with the tropes of the genre — not just here, but in “The Word is Murder” and “The Sentence is Death” — and revitalising them. He’s on that rarefied “Must Read” list.