Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her longterm boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she’s always wanted – but is it? She’s exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she’s beginning to miss her old life in London.
And then a couple – the Trehearnes – come to stay, and the story they tell about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married, is such a strange and mysterious one that Susan finds herself increasingly fascinated by it.
And when the Trehearnes tell her that their daughter is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to London and find out what really happened …
Having recently read (and LOVED) Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, his first mystery to feature Susan Ryland and the Atticus Pünd novels, I was surprised to find myself approaching its sequel, Moonflower Murders, with some trepidation. The premise of Magpie Murders – and it’s intricate interweaving of the two plots at its heart – was so unique that I was just a little worried that Horowitz wouldn’t be able to pull off the same magic twice.
My worries were, however, unfounded. Moonflower Murders more than lives up to the expectations set by it’s predecessor. Using the same ‘novel in a novel’ premise as Magpie Murders, Susan Ryland finds herself once again embroiled in an eerily familiar mystery when she is asked to investigate the sudden disappearance of hotelier Cecily Trehearne. Eight years before, the Trehearne family’s hotel, Branlow Hall, had been the site of a brutal murder that ruined Cecily’s wedding day and resulted in the arrest of one of their staff for murder. But it appears that Cecily didn’t think the outcome of the case was correct. Cecily’s chance reading of ‘Atticus Pünd Takes the Case’ seems to have sparked a revelation. She knew what really happened to Frank Parris all those years ago. But it seems someone may have silenced her before she could reveal the truth. As Susan arrives back in England, she finds herself once again confronting the legacy of Alan Conway, and turning to yet another Atticus Pünd novel to find the clues to a real-life mystery.
What I really enjoyed about both Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders is the way in which Horowitz moves so deftly between the two stories. Interconnections – some obvious and some fleeting – are woven between the two plot lines and there are tiny details and word games hidden within the book that can, with some thought, lead the reader to the truth behind the crime.
The worry with having a ‘novel within a novel’ is always that you’ll find one story more enjoyable than the other but with both of these books I was utterly hooked by both plots – initially desperate to get back to Susan’s investigation at Branlow Hall when the Atticus Pünd novel takes over, within a few pages I was completely hooked on Atticus’ own investigation into the murder of a famous actress at the Moonflower Hotel! Writing two such engaging and interesting plots is no mean-feat and it’s part of what makes these novels so very enjoyable for mystery fans.
I also liked the development of the main characters. Susan and her partner Andreas certainly become a lot more fleshed out in Moonflower Murders, and I was pleased to find some returning characters from Magpie Murders as a nice little nod to the previous book. I also felt that the supporting characters were a little more tangible in this novel – although the cast is still a large one, they felt a little more distinguishable in terms of traits and motivations.
As with Magpie Murders, I do still have one or two concerns about some of the characterisation in the books. Horowitz certainly tries to be diverse in the contemporary section of his novel but I didn’t find any of the representation to be particularly positive. I found it disappointing that the only black character in the novel (or at least, the only character directly identified as being black) – a returning character that I had some issues with in the first book – is an aggressive racist, for example. I was also a unsettled by the fact that the LGBTQ+ characters all seem to end up being flamboyant stereotypes or sexual predators. I’m not saying that authors should only write ‘nice’ POC and LGBTQ+ characters – diversity of representation is vitally important and there is, of course, no one way to write about lived experiences – but I did find the overall negativity of the portrayals here somewhat jarring and, if I’m honest, rather stereotypical.
That was, genuinely, my only issue with Moonflower Murders though and, that aside, I very much enjoyed this second slice of ingeniously plotted mystery, which comes replete with the usual plethora of red-herrings and suspicious goings on.
Fans of Magpie Murders are sure to love returning to both Susan Ryland and Atticus Pünd and, for newcomers to the series, the mysteries work perfectly well as a standalone (although you should go and read Magpie Murders too – it’s a lot of fun!) and is sure to keep you turning the pages long past your usual bedtime!
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley UK for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.