Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Categorisation: Murder mystery
Availability: TVNZ on demand, Britbox
Storyline: Successful writer and director Anthony Horowitz adapted this six-part series for the small screen based on his own 2016 crime novel, Magpie Murders. Tellingly, Horowitz first came up with the idea for the book when working on the classic series Midsomer Murders in the 1990s, and Magpie Murders certainly resonates with its whimsical humour and quintessential English settings. It is, nevertheless, a number of notches up from the hugely popular earlier series. Directed by the experienced Peter Cattaneo, Magpie Murders is a skilful story within a story. Alan Conway is a successful murder mystery writer whose series of novels follow the investigations of a 1950s German detective and refugee, Atticus Pünd. In his eagerly awaited novel, Conway takes his revenge on the people in his life that he dislikes, writing them cruelly into his fiction. The acerbic manuscript is with his publisher, Charles Clover, who gives it to Conway’s book editor Susan Ryeland to read. She takes it home, only to find it is missing its last crucial chapter. The next day, Conway is found dead outside his mansion, and the series follows Ryeland as she uses her amateur sleuthing skills to solve the riddle of the novelist’s death, and also the mystery of the missing chapter.
Film-craft: In this astute series we seamlessly move from one story to the other – the contemporary murder of Alan Conway, and the 1950s murders in his novel. The people Conway despises, and spitefully includes as characters in his last work, become suspects in his death. We follow Ryeland, who follows Atticus Pünd, who becomes Ryeland’s imaginary friend. Actors play roles in both stories, one scene stepping into another. This could be confusing, and you do need to pay attention, but the whole thing is managed so well we become embroiled in both stories and, importantly, the conceits of the genre itself. The stylish cinematography captures stunning settings with great attention to detail.
Cast: Lesley Manville is wonderful in the role of Susan Ryeland. The spirited actor’s passion and exuberance shine through the series as she splendidly embraces the roles of book editor and amateur detective. Claire Rushbrook plays her sister, one of the people Conway manipulates to get intelligence on his characters. Interestingly Manville and Rushbrook, also played sisters in the recent series Sherwood. There are many fine performances in this quality production. Alexandra’s Logothetis does a fine job as Andreas, Susan’s love interest. Conleth Hill plays the rich and dislikable Conway to perfection, and Tim McMullan is terrific as the enigmatic, wise and unruffled Atticus Pünd.
Personal Comments: Magpie Murders is a classic whodunnit – quirky and charming with plenty of twists and red herrings. There are a few loose trails in the plot, but it certainly makes us work on what’s happening as lives parallel lives across the two stories and deaths parallel deaths. It will undoubtedly appeal to the established Midsomer Murders fan base but also to anyone who likes the challenge of a clever and stylish detective mystery. Agatha Christie would take her hat off to this one.