Chris Connor reviews Magpie Murders…
Anthony Horowitz has been at the forefront of British literature and television for over two decades, and the latest of his books to receive the small screen treatment is 2016’s Magpie Murders, which had the novel concept of a story within a story, depicting the murder of mystery writer Alan Conway alongside one of his novels, the titular Magpie Murders, part of the Atticus Pünd (Tim McMullan) series.
The TV adaptation premieres on Britbox and stars Lesley Manville as Susan Ryeland, an experienced editor who works alongside Conway (Game of Thrones star Conleth Hill) and investigates his murder as well as the missing conclusion to his Magpie Murders manuscript. Does the missing manuscript offer a clue as to who killed Alan Conway?
The TV adaptation makes some slight tweaks to the structure of the novel to make the two storylines sit alongside one another and overlap slightly. The novel is told from Susan’s perspective, while the series gives an expanded role for some of the supporting cast, namely Conway who opens the majority of the episodes and is more of a recurring presence here. These changes add to the series while managing to keep the various twists and turns in-tact.
The way in which the series is able to manage both storylines is mostly to its credit; of course more emphasis is placed on Susan’s story but this does not detract from the sequences involving the fictional investigation and it is a testament to Horowitz’s imagination that this is pulled of so convincingly, with Horowitz here adapting his own book.
The performances also help to elevate this above many standard shows of the style and prevent it from becoming a pastiche of the likes of Agatha Christie, whose novels were an influence on the original book, and fans of Christie’s work will likely find themselves enthralled by the word Horowitz has created. Oscar nominee Manville shows her range, a far cry from her work with Mike Leigh and Paul Thomas Anderson, with Susan uncertain of what her future may hold and whether to continue her relationship with long-term boyfriend Andreas; she is married to her job and her character development is a highlight.
Conleth Hill conveys the darker side of Alan Conway, a selfish man who often infuriated those closest to him and would frequently stick them in his novels (indeed the actors playing characters in the main story also portray their fictional counterparts). Other parts are perhaps not given quite such a hefty role but with actors like Daniel Mays involved as both the real life and fictional detective investigating the respective murders ad Ali & Ava star Claire Rushbrook as Susan’s distant sister, there is talent across the board.
The sleepy village Suffolk setting and potential list of suspects feels of course akin to a Poirot novel or something out of an episode of Midsomer Murders but is also fresh with many candidates who held vendettas against Conway. If not reinventing the wheel the series, like the novel before it, is fun escapist entertainment that will surely appease fans of the genre.
Magpie Murders is a well-acted and well put together series that makes the most of its clever central concept to help set it apart in a tried and tested field. Anchored by Lesley Manville’s central performance and with clever touches throughout, Magpie Murders is likely to please Horowitz fans, and fans of whodunits and the works of Agatha Christie will likely spot the numerous nods while hopefully appreciating the series on its own terms.