Doc On The Box – Magpie Murders

Alan Conway is the lifeblood of Clover Publishing – at least the mystery novels featuring his German detective Atticus Pünd are. The series is the crucial factor in a potential takeover of the company, as without them, the publishers are near worthless (they don’t seem to have any other clients based on the posters on the wall of the office!) Susan Ryeland, the chief editor, is mulling over a position leading the company once it has changed hands, but in the meantime, she has to deal with the manuscript of the ninth Pünd novel. There are a couple of slight problems – the final chapter of the book is missing for one. Oh, and the rather major issue that Conway has apparently committed suicide, jumping from the roof of his mansion.

As Susan searches for the final chapter and begins to ruminate on what happened in Pünd’s story, suspicions begin to form that Conway’s death was far from straightforward. Someone was playing a very dark and nasty game and Susan finds herself caught up in its aftermath. And who is that shadowy German figure who seems to be following her?

If you’re in the UK and have Britbox, you’ll have probably noticed the appearance of Magpie Murders on it recently. When it was announced that there would be an adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novel, one of the single finest modern mystery novels of recent years, I’ll be honest, I had my doubts. Those doubts disappeared when I heard that it was Horowitz himself who was going to adapt it. The book itself is basically in two sections – after an introduction, we get most of the Pünd novel, most of the modern-day story and then the denouements of each – and that was never going to work in a six-part series. Instead, the stories weave in and out of each other and it works tremendously well. One effective idea, given that Conway based his books on real life, is that when a fictional character is based on a person in the real world, the same actor plays them. The same goes for locations as well – Pye Hall and Conway’s house are the same, for example. The slight sepia tone helps distinguish things for the easily confused viewer, just in case you’re worried.

The cast is led by Lesley Manville as Susan who does a wonderful job inhabiting the role, and the same goes for Conleth Hill as Conway, doing a tricky job of making an unpleasant character understandable. Pünd is portrayed by Tim McMullan, side-stepping the potential Poirot spoof, making the character almost seem real. I don’t recall Susan “meeting” Pünd in the books, but if that is an addition, it’s an excellent idea. The chemistry between McMullan and Manville is excellent and these sequences are a highlight – especially the one in the car. A special mention should go to James Beard, playing the dual role of Conway’s young lover and Pünd’s stupid assistant – excellent and distinctive in both roles.

Plotwise, there are no significant changes from the novel but it helped that I’d forgotten a couple of the key points. What it did remind me, though, was how few modern TV “detective” shows are actual mysteries that the reader can solve. Horowitz lays the clues out for the viewer and when all is revealed, it makes perfect sense – the viewer has been fooled, has been shown how they were fooled and is left with an admiration of a game well played.

If you get the chance, you should really watch this – it’s an outstanding piece of mystery television. I think the best review I could give it is from Mrs Puzzle Doctor, not a connoisseur of detective shows  –“That was really good.” Fingers crossed Moonflower Murders – in my opinion, an even better book – is on the way.

11 comments

  1. Thank you for this review. I am glad to hear it has been successfully adapted from book to screen. I don’t have Brit Box but if I get it in the future I will definitely make this one of the things I watch first.

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    • I’ve removed most of that as while it doesn’t name the killer, it makes things pretty clear. And while I understand your point, I disagree, I think the motive would work for many loyalist fans who would find that someone has undermined everything.

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      • Agree. Spoilers should not spoil vital sections for new readers/viewers. Perhaps consider a more moderate and placid tone in repiles….

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  2. It’s a pity that Britbox makes it impossible to see the end credits of any episode, instead skipping straight to the start of the next one. Normally you can use IMdB to fill in the gaps, but in this case it’s far from complete. How hard could it be to give viewers the option of watching the credits or skipping them?

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