‘Moonflower’ Has Double the ‘Murders’

There’s a particular brand of murder mystery that’s tough to replicate: a quaint little town in England whose residents hide secrets behind the shutters of their neat little cottages, and when blood is spilled, a twee investigator from the outside comes to expose those secrets one by one. Anthony Horowitz may not have invented the cozy mystery, but he certainly perfected it over seasons of Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. I loved his first novel, Magpie Murders, and although I spent literal weeks trying and failing to plow through the early chapters of his sequel, Moonflower Murders eventually won me over, too. 

Susan, the ex-publisher of a series of a bestselling series of cozy mystery novels, is mostly enjoying her new life as a hotel proprietor in Greece with her fiancé, Andreas. But running a hotel is harder—and more expensive—than anticipated, and she misses her old work. When an elderly couple from England tracks her down in hopes she can help locate their missing daughter, who vanished after linking one of those cozy mystery novels to a real-life murder that happened at the couple’s ritzy hotel several years ago, Susan can hardly pass up the well-paid opportunity.

She quickly realizes she’s in over her head. The murder occurred on the missing woman’s wedding day, and a recently fired hotel staffer was arrested and put away for life for the crime, despite having little to no motive to kill the man. The intervening years have faded memories and sharpened grudges, and more than one person in the hotel wants the past to stay buried. Meanwhile, Susan is dealing with upheaval in her own life: from misgivings about her relationship and new career to worries about her oddly behaving sister, returning to England is giving her a lot to process on top of trying to reopen a closed case. And it wouldn’t be a cozy mystery if someone didn’t go after her personally when she got a little too close.

Half the fun is trying to figure out what clues the pictures on this very clever cover correspond with. One of them still stumps me.

There’s a lot of vagueness in that description because there are so many details to keep track of: in addition to those in Susan’s personal life, there’s the suspects—uh, characters—at the hotel, and then a roughly equal number of them in the book-within-a-book. Horowitz includes in his cozy mystery novel the cozy mystery novel written by his dead fictional author that ostensibly holds the secret to solving the real murder. I mentioned struggling through the first part of the novel for a while; it was when I finally reached this “other” book that I really began to feel invested in the story. Though perhaps not as deft as an Agatha Christie novel, Horowitz’s fictional ace detective is every bit as keen-eyed as an Inspector Poirot, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the glamor of the fictionalized mid-century mystery (even if it is told through the lens of the fictional present-day mystery).

When I read sequels or books otherwise not the first in the series, I’m always curious about how well they’d do standing alone. Growing up in a very rural area, my main pipeline to reading was through the bookmobile library, which remains one of my most treasured privileges from childhood, but it is true that it didn’t necessarily have full sets of multi-volume stories. There were frequently the first two in a trilogy, for example, but never the third, or a single book from somewhere in the middle of a series. (Thankfully, the internet exists to find all those random titles.)

In the case of Moonflower Murders, I think I would have been able to catch on quickly enough, but there would have been plenty of context missing. Horowitz does give the typical rundown of what happened in the previous book, though it wasn’t particularly extensive. It’s been a year or so since I read Magpie Murders and there were already things I was missing—recurring characters I had to think real hard about before remembering who they were (and a couple of characters I just gave up on trying to remember altogether and I got through the story just fine). In other words, I do think this is a sequel that rests more heavily upon its predecessor than some.

This is not to say that’s a fault with Moonflower Murders. I think this would likely be a book that rewards binge-reading with Magpie Murders, as well as rereading too. It did take me a while to care about what I was reading, which I suspect is because a lack of investment on my part on the narrator (I came here for the blood, Susan, not your conflicting feelings about your struggling relationship). But once I found my footing, I was racing to the finish. Take that for what you will, but I’d still recommend it if you’re looking for a twee fix.

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