Warning: contains major spoilers for the Magpie Murders finale.
With Magpie Murders, you get double bubble – one investigation in the ‘real’ world as literary editor Susan Ryeland sleuths her way around modern-day Suffolk after the death of one of her authors, plus a 1950s-set dramatisation of that author’s latest detective novel. Both stories are told side by side on screen as actors play dual roles, and Anthony Horowitz’s adaptation of his own novel keeps multiple plates spinning. All that, plus a truly lovely wardrobe worn by the impeccably dressed Lesley Manville in the lead role of Ryeland, and a new instant favourite detective in Tim McMullan’s Poirot-tinged Atticus Pünd. What more could cosy crime fans ask for?
Another series is one thing – a wish that’s already been granted. Expect Moonflower Murders to start filming in Dublin later this year, ready to debut on the BBC in 2024 (instead of BritBox as this first series did before making its way to the Beeb), hopefully followed by a third series adapted from Horowitz’s yet-to-be-published final book in the Susan Ryeland trilogy.
Here’s how the first TV series played out, and what we can expect for next time.
Who Killed Alan Conway?
Everybody in his Suffolk village (and pretty much everybody who’d met him) had a motive to kill Alan Conway (Game of Thrones‘ Conleth Hill), the wealthy novelist behind the hit Atticus Pünd detective book series. He was widely disliked and took pleasure in causing other people pain. Was his killer the humiliated sister, the discarded lover, the disaffected son?
None of the above. Alan was pushed to his death by Charles Clover, the founder of the independent publishing house that put out the Atticus Pünd books. Clover did it to protect a profitable buy-out by a multinational publisher, and the ongoing reputation of the Pünd books. Conway had lofty literary ambitions and resented his commercial success, so had hidden a spiteful message in the name of his famous detective. He’d named the nine books in the Pünd series so the first letters of each title spelled out the clue “an anagram” and pointed to a secret.
The Atticus Pünd Anagram
If you rearrange the letters that form Atticus Pünd, you get Alan’s computer password “cat up nudist”, but you also get three words: “a stupid…” with the remaining letters “cnut”, which we’ll leave you to decipher. It was a nasty dig from Conway at his well-loved (but deeply resented on his part) star character. If the final book were to be published as Conway had intended, with the title “Magpie Murders” instead of Clover’s suggested “The Magpie Murders”, the anagram clue would have been intact and readers may have discovered Conway’s cruel hidden verdict on their favourite.
To avoid that happening and causing a stink that could jeopardise his multi-million pound takeover, Clover hid the final chapter of the manuscript, pushed the dying-of-cancer Conway to his death, and faked the author’s suicide. Part of the book’s final chapter was a letter from the terminally ill Atticus Pünd explaining his decision to take his own life. Charles pretended Alan’s handwritten draft of that was his own suicide note, added it to the letter of apology Alan wrote him after his drunken outburst in the restaurant, and posted it to himself.
Who Killed Mary Blakiston and Sir Magnus Pye?
The book-within-a-book nature of Magpie Murders gives us not one but multiple murder solutions. After Susan has identified Charles as Alan’s killer and is in hospital recovering from his attack, she enters her imagination to ‘witness’ Atticus Pünd solving the Saxby-on-Avon murders in the local pub. First, Pünd explains that Pye Hall housekeeper Mary Blakiston was not killed but died by accident. Mary was vacuuming the stairway when she ran downstairs to answer the phone, tripped on the vacuum cable and fatally hit her head. Her son Robert, though suspected by the village, was innocent. Of that…
Robert Blakiston, the car mechanic who planned to marry Joy Sanderling, killed Sir Magnus Pye. It all went back to the death of Robert’s younger brother Sam, who drowned in the lake at Pye Hall 12 years earlier. The disturbed young Robert had first poisoned his brother Sam’s dog, and then drowned Sam in the lake. Their mother Mary had apparently witnessed the drowning from her work room with a lake view, but instead of alerting anybody, kept a close eye on Robert from that day forth. When he announced his engagement to Joy, Mary’s objection had nothing to do with racism at Joy’s heritage but with her fear that Robert would pass on his disturbed and murderous nature to any future children.
At Mary’s funeral, the vicar alluded to what Mary had metaphorically left behind in the community, which jogged Robert’s memory. Mary had written a letter to Sir Magnus kept in his safe that detailed Robert’s murder of Sam. To protect his secret, Robert broke into Pye Hall, burnt the letter, staged the silver robbery but threw the artifacts into the lake, and decapitated Sir Magnus with an ornamental sword when he came back from his holiday unexpectedly early.
What Next for Susan in Series 2 Moonflower Murders?
After Susan confronted Charles about his guilt, he knocked her out with a literary award and set fire to the office. Her partner Andreas rescued her, having realised that the incriminating photograph Susan had been anonymously sent originated at the publishing house. She ended the series, after learning of the death of her father, by announcing her departure from publishing and her intention to move to Crete with Andreas to co-run his hotel venture.
In Anthony Horowitz’s next Susan Ryeland book Moonflower Murders (published in 2020), Susan has indeed moved to Crete with Andreas. There, she’s approached by a pair of hoteliers to come back to England to help them investigate a disappearance linked to a murder that Alan Conway had fictionalised in one of his earlier Atticus Pünd books. As Conway’s editor, the hoteliers sought out Susan to see if she could shed any light on what Alan knew about the historical murder and the modern-day disappearance. Another dual-narrative detective set between the present day and the 1950s, ensues.
Moonflower Murders is due to film in 2023, with Lesley Manville and Atticus Pünd actor Tim McMullan reprising their roles. The series will premiere in the UK in 2024. After that, one final Susan Ryeland book is planned for publication from author and screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, and hopefully book three will also be adapted for television to complete Susan’s story on screen.
Magpie Murders is currently airing on Saturdays on BBC One, and all six episodes are available to stream now on BBC iPlayer and BritBox in the UK, and on PBS Masterpiece in the US.