Murder, He Wrote:
The publishing industry is going through tough times, and Anthony Horowitz’s novel Magpie Murders captures the end of that glorious era, when writers of bestselling whodunits could make millions from book sales.
Alan Conway (Conleth Hill) is one such, who made a fortune out of his detective Atticus Pund books, but hates his own creation, and would rather have been a writer of literary fiction. His latest novel could actually keep his publisher Charles Clover (Michael Maloney) from sinking, as he negotiates a lucrative deal with a media conglomerate.
Susan Ryeland (Lesley Manville) has Conway’s editor for many years, and is excited to receive his manuscript of Magpie Murders; she is dismayed to find that the last chapter is missing, and then the writer is found dead at his country mansion in Suffolk.
She drives to his home to try to find the missing pages, and Conway’s young boyfriend James (Matthew Beard) is helpful, but the writer’s study has been cleaned out of all papers and his computer wiped out too. It also turns out that Conway was so unpopular that several people could have had reason to kill him, and at one point, Susan suspects her boyfriend Andreas Patakis (Alexandros Logothetis). Their relationship is already under strain, because he wants to move to his native Crete to run a hotel and wants Susan to go with him. (Incidentally, in the next novel, Moonflower Murders, they have shifted to Crete, where she is overworked and unhappy, and returns to the UK to solve another murder; Season 2 is reportedly on its way).
Horowitz’s novel had a book-within-a-book format, in which Atticus Pund (Tim McMullan), the fictional detective arrives at the village of Saxby-on-Avon with his sidekick James, to solve two recent murders of the local squire and his housekeeper. So, he works on that case, while Susan tries to unravel the mystery of Conway’s death. In the six-part series, directed by Peter Cattaneo, Horowitz finds interesting ways for the two parallel plots to intersect.
As Susan finds that Conway has used real-life people with changed names as characters in his novel – most actors play dual roles—Pund becomes a kind of imaginary friend and mentor, who guides her towards solving the crime.
Horowitz is not just a popular writer, he is also comfortable with the medium of television, having written classics like Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War among others, so his novel is turned into an elegant series without losing much in its conversion from page to screen.
Magpie Murders is a tribute to the Agatha Christie genre of murder mysteries, and maybe, also a bit of an affectionate send-up. The series is enjoyable, and captures the beautiful English countryside with its manors and meadows. Moreover, the language is civilized, without the overused F-word. The cast is top class, and it was great to see the 66-year-old Lesley Manville cast as Susan Ryeland; were this an American series, the actress would undoubtedly have been a couple of decades younger. Manville brings maturity to her performance, without ever letting Susan lose her sharp edges. Tim McMullan, with his beetle brows and gentle manner, makes for a delightful Atticus Pund.
(This piece first appeared in seniorstoday.on on February 26, 2022)