Magpie Murders


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I'm not really a fan of murder mysteries or wrap-around stories but this blend of both was captivating.  I think it was the wrap-around that made it so engaging.  By wrap-around I mean a story within a story.  Like "The Princess Bride" is really the grandfather telling the sick child a story but it gets so deep into the story that I forget its a wrap-around and when they bounce back to grandpa/sick kid it feels jarring to me and I dislike the entire thing.  With Magpie I never forgot the wrap-around even though the beginning only took a few pages (the end was much longer).  I thought this was a really cool concept that a fictional author writes a novel that appears unfinished and in which his main, murder-solving character was dying and then it turns out that the fictional author was also dying and was murdered and someone needs to solve his death.

The full novel by the fictional author is embedded in the Horowitz book.  I felt like the embedded story had a few too many characters and had difficulty keeping track of them all.  The embedded novel is set in the mid-1950s in a small town in England (Saxby-on-Avon) which is a three-hour drive from London.  Because of the novel within a novel the page numbers are a bit all over the place.  The first portion of the wrap around is numbered sequentially.  Then the numbering starts over with the inset novel.  Then the end of the wrap around starts the numbering again.  I read most of the book from a hardback copy but some on the ebook.

On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex:  1

Religion: 2

Gruesome: 3

Suspense:  0

Morality:  4

Traditional: 3

Sex - Reverend feels wife's breasts press against him when she leans over to kiss him (pg. 9)

Religion - Pund didn't believe in God.  He blamed it on concentration camps but admired those who maintained faith through them.  "...he was not afraid of being proved wrong. ... he understood God was the forgiving sort." (pgs. 119-120)

Gruesome - Beheading with a sword. (pg. 84)

Suspense - You'd think a murder mystery would have a lot of suspense, but I never felt suspenseful.  I never had that gonna-stay-up-til-I-find-out-who-dunnit moment.

Morality - On par with the time-period, parents who would be upset to learn their grown daughter spent the night with her fiancee.  The townspeople were also shocked by her admission.  Mary Blakiston kept a journal of the townspeople's offenses, including:  "All those trips she makes, everyone knows what's going on. ... I suppose these are the times we live in. ... Does he know?  Should I say something?" (pg. 143)  Through this journal it's implied that Mary didn't want Joy to marry her son Robert because Joy's brother has Down's Syndrome.  Later this misunderstanding is cleared up.  Susan floats the idea of one character being a pedophile. (pg. 7)

Traditional - after several years of marriage a man leaves his wife and child for another man.  Susan won't write the "c" word. (pg. 221)  Church people hid "naturist" activities. (pg. 222)


Discussion Questions

Susan said Magpie Murders changed her life. (pg. 3)  What book changed your life?

Laner & Crane started out as house builders who made caskets on the side. (pg. 4)  They wound up only making caskets.  Can you name any other companies that started as one thing and wound up as another?

Are funerals hypocritical?  (pg. 9)  Why?  Henrietta Osborne wanted to be buried in pink with begonias.  How would you like to be buried?  How do you feel about funeral processions driving by the home?  (Ch. 6, pg. 26)

Rev. Osborne thinks about Mary and remembers her baking in Ch. 2 (pg. 6) and Jeffrey Weaver remembers her for the same thing in Ch. 8 (pg. 34).  The paragraphs are very similar.  What is the effect of the similarity?

In the embedded novel the chapters were organized into parts:  1-Sorrow, 2-Joy, 3-A Girl, 4-A Boy, 5-Silver, 6-Gold.  Did you find any particular significance to these divisions?

At the end of Joy-Ch. 2, what word did you think James was underlining?  What did Pund mean when he said, "The motor scooter, though.  Had it been any colour but pink, it might have been significant."?   Did we know what color Joy's motorcycle was?

What did you think Joy was going to do at the end of Ch. 3 (pg. 55) when she resolved to do something shocking to protect her life with Robert?

On his first morning in Saxby-on-Avon, at the inn, Pund resolved to do two things - solve the murder and "the second he refused to articulate". (pg. 120) What was his second resolution?  

Why did Joy seem sharp with Pund when he went to the doctor's office?  (pgs. 123-124)

Pund frequently said James was unobservant (example pg. 120) but James frequently observed things.  What role does this contradiction serve?  Were James' observations correct?

Chubb advised Miss Pye, "sometimes you can spend so much time chasing something that you lose everything else while you're about it." (ePg. 180, loc. 2583)   Have you ever lost something because you chased it too much?

Once Clarissa Pye discovered the truth it seemed her perceived loss of her rights no longer bothered her.  (ePg. 183, loc. 2900)  It was as if the truth set her free.  When has the truth set you free from a burden?

When Susan went to Alan (the author's) home (pg. 32) she realized it resembled the fictional Pye Hall.  Similarly, both Pund and Alan were dying.  Can an author put too much of themselves into a story?  "After all, every character in fiction has to begin somewhere." (pg. 39)  Then, in the wrap-around story Alan had dinner at the Club next to Mathew Prichard who really is the grandson of Agatha Christie, (pg. 92) and the fictional characters reference the real book "The Grand Tour" written by the real Mathew Prichard.  Is that the pot calling the kettle black?  (The fictional Susan is upset that the fictional Alan put so many real life details into the fictional mystery but Horowitz included real life details in the wrap around.)

If you were Susan, before the choice was made for her, would you have chosen the hotel in Crete or Cloverleaf books? (pg. 168) Why? 

When Susan said her clue was there and someone had identified themselves through something they said (pg. 191) when she started reading Magpie Murders, did you know who it was?  Did you turn back and try to figure it out?

Do you agree with Susan's sentiments in the last three paragraphs on pg. 236 (starting with "I even saw a copy")?

"It's strange when you think about it.  There are hundreds and hundreds of murders in books and television.  It would be hard for narrative fiction to survive without them.  And yet there are almost none in real life, unless you happen to live in the wrong area.  Why is it that we have such a need for murder mystery and what is it that attracts us -the crime or the solution?  Do we have some primal need of bloodshed because our own lives are so safe, so comfortable?" (ePg. 278, loc. 4095)

Was the Atticus Pund murder resolved to your satisfaction?  Was the Alan Conway murder resolved to your satisfaction?  What disappointed you in either story?  What surprised you in either story?

Theme Ideas

Serve Nacho Cheese Doritos, hot salsa & wine like when Susan sat down with "Magpie Murders" at the beginning of the novel. (pg. 1) 

Serve homemade cake, almond bites or Victoria sponge, like Reverend Osborne remembered of Mary Blakiston.

Serve fish stix, "something quite new that had turned up in the village shop" as Clarissa Pye explained to her brother. (pg. 70 of P2, Ch. 8)

Serve "home-made quiche with a bean salad" (pg. 94) like Henrietta served Rev. Osborne when he came in after meeting Pund near the bus stop.

Decorate with old copies of Punch and Country Life magazines like Dr. Redwing's office had. (pg. 122)
Decorate with magazines Magnet and Hotspur like young Robert and Tom read. (pg. 159)

Serve "tea and home-made biscuits" like Henrietta served Pund and James. (pg. 146)

Serve Raki from Crete like Susan drank after finishing the novel. (pg. 5)

Serve large martinis or expensive wine (Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Cru pg. 21) and coffee like Charles and Alan had at their last dinner.

Serve canned salmon rissole and stewed fruit like Clarissa had for lunch after she learned the truth. (ePg. 184, loc. 2906)

Serve smoked salmon, salad, artisan bread, wine and sparkling water like Melissa served when Susan went to her house. (pg. 193)

Serve home-made cake, like Susan had at her sister Katie's house. (ePg. 272, loc. 4025)

Decorate with a bunch of flowers.  Serve "Cretan olives, wonderful thyme honey, oil, wine, cheese and mountain tea" like Andreas brought Susan when he returned from Greece. (ePg. 280, loc. 4128)

Serve Greek food, including "taramasalata, dolmades, loukaniko, souvlakia...red wine" like Susan and Andreas order at the Greek restaurant. (ePg. 282, loc. 4154)  Serve "thick, sweet coffee" (not Turkish). (ePg. 284, loc. 4184)  Also serve raki. (ePg. 285, loc. 4200)

Serve roast lamb and red wine like Andreas made for Susan when she returned from Framlingham. (ePg. 369, locs. 5331 & 5334)

Play James Taylor music as an ironic nod to Alan's partner.


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