If the title of Anthony Horowitz’s latest book seems familiar, then you have probably been watching re-runs of Midsomer Murders.
In an early episode of the TV detective series Horowitz included a character who was holding a copy of a book called Magpie Murders.
Eighteen years on, that germ of an idea has grown into a complex double whodunit
Most writers are happy to enjoy success in a single genre, but it seems whatever Anthony Horowitz turns his attention to will find a willing audience.
Famous amongst young adults for the Alex Ryder series, he’s also written for stage, TV (Foyles War, Midsomer Murders), and film. His adult books Moriarty and Trigger Mortis invigorated two of literature’s most iconic characters in Sherlock Holmes and James Bond.
At one of the launch events for the new book, the author tells me there was never any doubt as to what he would do for a living.
“I knew from the age of ten that I wanted to be a writer’’, he told me.
“The first piece I wrote was called `The Thing That Never Happened’. It was a play about Guy Fawkes trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament. It was never put on. I asked my father to buy me a big block of paper and a pen, which he did, I just wanted to be a writer, largely because of Tin Tin, because I was a great Tin Tin fan when I was young . Tin Tin is actually a writer, he is a journalist.”
He was on his way.
“That was the first book that I read that I loved. It got me started on the idea of creating worlds because I loved the world of Tin Tin more than the world I was living in. It made me realise that fiction opens doors into better places.
“As a teenager I was given Iain Fleming’s Dr No to read, and that had a certain effect on me. When I was 17 I was given the Sherlock Holmes books to read. In fact, I have written about all the books I used to read as a youngster. I wrote a Tin Tin film for Spielberg, done two Sherlock Holmes novels and a James Bond novel, so these books have always had a huge impact on me.”
Like many aspiring writers as a youngster Anthony had to rely on his own self-belief in pursuing his chosen career.
“My father ridiculed the idea of being a writer. He didn’t think I was clever enough, he thought I should go into business as he was a businessman. I’m afraid to say he really rather put me down. I never really considered anything else, I was no good at anything but writing.
“When I was in my late teens I sold two horror stories. There used to be the Pan books of horror stories. I turned them down because the money they were offering was derisory. The first time I was published was when I was twenty with a children’s book called The Sinister Secret of Frederick K Bower and that was the beginning of my publishing career, still quite young.”
His latest book, Magpie Murders, is unlike anything he has written before.
“It’s two very twisty whodunnits in one book. It’s also an examination of whodunnits and why we read them. I’m interested in the relationship between the detective, the writer and the reader.
“The first half is a straightforward whodunit in the style of Agatha Christie, which you can probably guess from the title, which comes from `One for Sorrow, Two for Joy.’ Agatha Christie did love her nursery rhymes. The second half concerns an editor who is trying to work out the puzzle of the first half and finds herself in a modern murder mystery.
“It was incredibly complicated and very difficult to write. It took me two and a bit years. At the end of it I felt like a telephone engineer holding two cables, each with a hundred miniature cables inside. Each one had to somehow join with the correct one. I was overjoyed to discover that all the cables fitted.”
As you’d expect from a master of his craft, careful planning ensured that everything worked.
“I have a notebook absolutely jammed with clues, red herrings, notes, anagrams, acrostics, and all the other puzzles that you get in the book. The trick was to write a book that wouldn’t be confusing to readers and would provide satisfaction at the end but which in itself is incredibly intricate.”
While Magpie Murders will doubtless be at many bedsides over the coming months, Anthony reveals an interesting choice for his own reading.
“At the moment I’m about to start Conclave by Robert Harris. I can’t wait.”
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz is out on October 6th