TV Review: Magpie Murders

With Lesley Manville in a starring role, I was always going to watch Magpie Murders and naturally, I enjoyed its twisting charms a lot

“Why does a book have to matter?”

Adapted from Anthony Horowitz’s hit novel, Magpie Murders is a twisting murder mystery thriller that does require you to pay at least a little attention. I’ve slipped into the habit of using (some) TV series as wallpaper, switching on a streamer and then doing something else as well and for a lot of trashy TV, that works just fine. With this show though, on Britbox, its format does mean that you might need to keep more than half an eye on it.

Lesley Manville plays editor Susan Ryeland who receives a manuscript from her client Alan Conway, an abrasive but big-selling author, which is missing the final chapter. When Conway is found dead, she visits his home village to see if she can locate it but finds herself drawn into a web of intrigue and murder on two levels, as she realises that he’s used his family and fellow villagers as characters in his own murder mystery novel. To solve the present day murder, she also needs to solve the fictional murder.

And so we get two parallel timelines – present-day and 1955, and several of the actors appear in both and it is all entertainingly done. Conway’s detective is called Atticus Pünd, played excellently by Tim McMullan, and leads his strand well, but the real fun comes in the doubling, as Conleth Hill’s acerbic Conway has taken revenge on everyone in his life by recasting them as dopey inspectors, bitter harridans, etc etc (Daniel Mays, Pippa Haywood and Matthew Beard just a few who seem to having great fun). 

The double unwinding means that I was properly engaged too, layers of details and red herrings threw me way off the scent and I really enjoyed the progression of both cases. Naturally, Manville is superb as Susan, with her hunky Greek professor boyfriend and tricky relationship with her sister played by Claire Rushbrook (which is bizarrely echoed in Sherwood where they played estranged siblings again). Great fun.

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