Despite having over forty novels to his name, spanning over four decades, Moonflower Murders was my first foray into the work of Anthony Horowitz, who perhaps most famously made a name for himself at the start of the millennium with his series of YA Alex Rider spy novels, before becoming more of a household fixture in recent times, having penned estate-sanctioned Sherlock Holmes and James Bond novels. Moonflower Murders, however, is the second in Horowitz’s Susan Ryeland series, which kicked off in 2016 with Magpie Murders and centres on literary editor Ryeland, who gets pulled into the world of crime-solving on the back of her association with revered crime writer Alan Conway.
The literary core of this book very much drew me in, as did the prospect of a ‘book within a book’ format, and although I had no prior experience with the Susan Ryeland series, or Horowitz as a writer in general, I found the characters and context easy to pick up and dive into. The novel starts off simply enough with Susan called into investigate a murder and a woman’s disappearance, but the clues lie in one of Conway’s novels. Instead of just gifting us these clues through Susan, however, Horowitz, puts his readers very much in Susan’s shoes by implanting the whole ‘Alan Conway’ novel into the middle of Moonflower Murders, hence the book within a book. It is amongst the most ambitious formats I’ve ever read, as, essentially, Horowitz writes not one but two fully-fledged, distinct stories. There is the 300-plus page present-day Susan Ryeland story mystery, and the 200-plus page Golden Age style Alan Conway murder mystery, and both of them are brilliantly executed as exemplars in their respective genres and fields.
It is both an exacting but impressive undertaking for an author and is testament to Horowitz’s writing skills and dedication to his craft, and yet, despite enjoying the added bonus of reading two books, I did really wonder if it was all necessary and part of me felt it seemed like a bit of an exhibition. Whilst I appreciate the incredible talent and effort that went into the format, I wasn’t sure that there was enough in that second novel to justify it needing to be included in full, and though it does create a unique reading experience, I wasn’t convinced that the murder mystery of the Moonflower Murders was particularly enhanced or dependent on reading the Alan Conway story. I liked the idea, and who doesn’t want to get two stories for the price of one, but I didn’t think the ends suitably justified the means, sadly.
Credit must be given to the design team for setting the Alan Conway Atticus Pund novel so brilliantly with a cover and introductory pages, as if a real novel, and it reads as a great standalone piece, and to some extent I found myself more invested in this story than the Moonflower Murders narrative, which, to me, dragged in the first third of the book. I was glad to have persevered with the book, although there’s no doubting it does require concentration and effort to really to get to grips with both stories and the overlaps and characters, but I just wanted more from the Alan Conway book to firmly cement its purpose and justify its need within the larger story as a whole. Overall, this is an impressive book but perhaps a bit showier and more complex than need be.
Reviewed by Jade Craddock
Personal Read: 3.5*
Century (20 Aug. 2020) Hardback