by Anthony Horowitz (2016/2020)
I liked Magpie Murders a lot. Moonflower Murders was derivative, if an author can be derivative within their own series, and I skimmed a lot of it.
First, let me sing the praises of Magpie Murders (and say thanks to Jess for the nudge to read it!). It's a very clever and well-devised murder mystery. To start Susan Ryeland, editor for a small publishing house, begins reading the latest Alan Conway novel, called Magpie Murders. It is his 9th in a series starring the fictional character of Detective Atticus Pünd. And so begins the book-within-a-book... Alan Conway's Magpie Murders takes up the first half of the book, and it's a very good story! But at around the 200-page mark, it ends abruptly, and returns to Susan as narrator. The last chapters of the book are missing! And to top it off, not long after this, she learns that Alan Conway is dead - appearing to have committed suicide by jumping off the tower of his mansion. Though there is no love lost between Susan and Conway, she finds his death suspicious, and also is determined to locate the missing pages so she can find out who-dunnit! As she dives into research and interviews with people Conway knew best, she begins to see striking similarities between his personal story and that of his book, Magpie Murders.
Both mysteries - the one the character of Atticus Pünd is investigating, and the one Susan Ryeland is investigating - have lots of twists, and lots of suspects with plenty to kill for. And as for the resolutions, both are totally satisfying! It's a very well-plotted book (I imagine it took a lot of character mapping) and the conclusion wrapped everything up in a way that was neither too far-fetched, nor too simplified.
Now on to Moonflower Murders (which I keep wanting to call Moon-pie Murders). Susan Ryeland is out of the publishing world and living in Crete with her fiancé when an older couple find her and ask for her help in finding their missing daughter, Cecily, back in England. They believe is it related to another murder that took place eight years before at the hotel they own. Author Alan Conway visited the hotel soon after that murder, and based one of his Atticus Pünd novels on the story. Before disappearing, Cecily called her parents and told them that the wrong man had been convicted of that murder, and she's found the clue by reading Conway's book. Susan goes back to England to the hotel to investigate a whole host of shady characters. It sounds interesting, I guess? But it wasn't nearly as well told, the premise just kept getting more bizarre, and the characters weren't at all interesting.
There is another book-within-a-book structure when Susan gets out Conway's novel to read... honestly, it didn't matter at all to the plot of the story so I completely skipped it, which meant I got to skip 26 chapters of drivel.
On top of the book just being unimpressive, there were also a few very problematic things that make me think Horowitz is racist and homophobic (TW):
There is only one Black character in either book, a detective who has a supporting role in both novels (though more so in Moonflower). He is portrayed as hot-headed, extremely angry all the time for no real discernible reason, and completely unreasonable. He's also the only character that is not at all shy about voicing his racist views towards all Romanian immigrants.
There are three main characters who are gay. Two are horrible people - manipulative liars who use others whenever it works to their advantage, and are just generally portrayed as deviant and perverted. The third is a former prostitute, now squandering away a massive inheritance (from one of the other horrible gay guys).
There are a lot of comments by some of the (white, straight) characters like, "I don't care that he's gay, but..." followed up by something awful about the person. And no one, not the main character Susan Ryeland or anyone else, ever challenges those kinds of comments.
Particularly disturbing was the rant one character goes on about how much he hates gay men. He is someone who used to be a "rent boy" (i.e. prostitute), but claims to have done it only for the money, and purports to absolutely loathe the men he slept with. I could not help but think that in that moment I was reading Horowitz's true homophobic feelings, given how much just-under-the-surface homophobia was in the rest of the book.
It's disgusting that portrayals of all the characters who are not straight and white, are shown as morally corrupt, racist, or just plain mean (or some combination of all of those).
Really disappointing, and of course kind of colors how I now think about Magpie Murders. But still, if you're up for a fun murder mystery, Magpie really is a great read! (Just maybe borrow it from the library instead of buying it, so Horowitz doesn't get any of your money.)
UP NEXT: The Conductors, by Nicole Glover