While We’re Waiting for The Ink Black Heart, Try Magpie Murders: a Book-within-Book Echo of The Silkworm

Thanks to my fellow Strikefans on Twitter, I got a good recommendation for another British whodunnit to tide me over until The Ink Black Heart comes out. Indeed, it is particularly appropriate since we are expecting a book-within-a-book (or possibly cartoon script within a book?) mystery, with connections to The Silkworm. I am about halfway through the audiobook of Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders, volume one of his Susan Ryeland series.

I can already testify that there are a lot of similarities between Magpie Murders and the second Strike volume, so much so that, were they not published so close together (The Silkworm in June 2016, Magpie Murders in October 2016), I might think that Horowitz’s volume was inspired by, or written in homage to, Robert Galbraith’s.  In fact, Rowling’s name has been mentioned twice in the book, along with other well-known mystery writers such as Ian Rankin, P.D. James and, of course, Agatha Christie.

Susan Ryeland is the fiction editor of a small British publisher. The company’s star writer is Alan Conway, an egotistical author of a best-selling series of Christiesque mysteries, who has just submitted his planned final manuscript, having decided to bump off the series star, Detective Atticus Pünd, via brain tumor. When misfortune befalls the author, his editor turns detective, searching not only for the missing last chapter of the manuscript (which contains the annoyingly absent whodunnit solution) but also for answers as to what really became of its author.

Like Cormoran and Robin in The Silkworm, Ms. Ryeland recognizes real-life acquaintances of Conway in the manuscript, and begins to suspect that there is a hidden message in the book that someone didn’t want published for the world to read. Other common elements with The Silkworm include a self-important author with more enemies than friends, a sphincter-clenchingly bad, unpublishable book draft that said author thinks is his masterpiece, a country retreat in Devon, an abandoned wife and child, and a manuscript that appears to exist only on paper, in an era of computers. And if we want a connection to Cuckoo’s Calling, we have the famous person falls from a tall building, suicide or murder question. The major difference is that we readers get to read the full Atticus Pünd mystery along with the editor. Don’t worry, it’s better than Bombyx Mori. 

It’s been a thoroughly entertaining read so far, and I’m on my library’s waiting list for the sequel, Moonflower Murders. If you enjoy a book-within-a-book and British murder mysteries, this is one to put on your list. And is the magpie on the cover of The Ink Black Heart a wink to this series? We’ll have to wait and see.


  1. Great find, Louise! This book was chosen as the ‘Best Book of 2017 by Amazon, NPR, the Washington Post, and Esquire and I have never heard of it. I found a $4 copy (including S&H) at Bookfinders.com which means the world was flooded with copies five years ago. Very much looking forward to reading this — and very grateful to you for the recommendation!

  2. cool

  3. Dr. Freeman,

    Thanks for the interesting find. As well as sounding like a decent thriller in its own right, one thing the Horowitz volume should help remind us all about is that with this next book, serious readers should probably look forward to some of the best features of Rowling’s books.

    In practice, that means a return of the metafictional/metaliterary commentary that we first got a look at in “Silkworm”. This is really a softball prediction, yet I think with “Ink Black Heart”, we can expect another text featuring the author’s thoughts on reading, writing, authors, and readers all mashed together again. If the particular medium for this is a digital, online comic series, then it will be interesting to here what Rowling, a traditional paper and ink bound writer from all accounts, thinks about this new level of writing media, and how it might impact the way readers interacts with the stories they enjoy.

    Thanks again for the book recommendation. It’s even more interesting to know there’s an entire Detective series based around the “Silkworm” model.

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