Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Book Report: Magpie Murders

19. Anthony Horowitz, Magpie Murders (2017) (7/24/18)

Two months ago I read Horowitz's most recent mystery, The Word Is Murder (and reported on it here). I probably should have waited longer to tackle this one. As it is, I ripped right through The Word Is Murder, enjoying Horowitz's wit and metanarra-tivity, the puzzle and its solution. Magpie Murders was a different story: it was a slog. I didn't especially care about any of the characters—the fictional sleuth, the editor-cum-detective of the framing story, or any of the suspects in either of the mysteries. I felt the structure of the book was contrived (too clever by half): the book-within-a-book, not to mention the additional handwritten letter, the minibio by the author's sister, the missing final chapter. And in the end, I didn't buy the motives for the killings—so the "reveal" was a yawn, though I suppose I did appreciate the convolutedness of the final explanation of the (fictional) crime. Horowitz does convolution well.

But I was glad that Dingle Dell was saved from development and that the editor chucks her job and moves to a sunny island with her Greek lover (sorry: that's a spoiler, if you intend to read this book despite the above). And I liked the chapter called "Detective Work." Here's a bit of it:
I've always loved whodunnits. I've not just edited them. I've read them for pleasure throughout my life, gorging on them actually. You must know that feeling when it's raining outside and the heating's on and you lose yourself, utterly, in a book. You read and you read and you feel the pages slipping through your fingers until suddenly there are fewer in your right hand than there are in your left and you want to slow down but you still hurtle on towards a conclusion you can hardly bear to discover. That is the particular power of the whodunnit which has, I think, a special place within the general panoply of literary fiction because, of all characters, the detective enjoys a particular, indeed a unique relationship with the reader.
 Whodunnits are all about truth: nothing more, nothing less. In a world full of uncertainties, is it not inherently satisfying to come to the last page with every i dotted and every t crossed? The stories mimic our experience in the world. We are surrounded by tensions and ambiguities, which we spend half our life trying to resolve, and we'll probably be on our own deathbed when we reach that moment when everything makes sense. Just about every whodunnit provides that pleasure. It is the reason for their existence. It's why Magpie Murders was so bloody irritating. 
As I said above, the dotted i's and crossed t's were one of the few satisfactions of this book, but otherwise I agree with this narrator: Magpie Murders was bloody irritating. And probably, waiting longer to read it wouldn't have changed my mind . . .

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