The Pünd novel revolves around the death of Mary Blakiston, ruled accidental, and quickly followed by the brutal murder of Sir Magnus Pye. You begin with Mary's funeral, where you are introduced to all the key characters. The novel is clearly an homage to Poirot, with the setting being a small English village full of whispers and secrets. Everyone is suspect, all instances are unusual or could be linked in some way to the events that have occurred. Was the death "accidental", is someone a clever murderer? What do the two death's have to do with each other?
When we first meet Atticus Pünd it is at a Doctor's office, where he is given a terminal diagnosis. While we have not read any of the other fictional novels about him, you know this is going to be significant. This means this book is it for the series. It urges you to pay attention, to suspect everything, to be ready for a clever plot and suspense. It is funny reading a fictional novel within a fictional novel. As a reader, you become somewhat disconnected from the text, from immersing in the landscape and characters. You are reading this through the eyes of an editor; I spent time looking for errors, grammar issues, studying the timeline and world. Wondering how this novel ties to the ominous introduction it was given. There is a title page, about the author, list of previous novels in the series, praise for those previous books, and then the novel; which is numbered differently from the rest of the book. It becomes very much a book within a book, and you are sucked into both narratives immediately.
Susan finishes the manuscript, as you do, with a question of who did it on your mind, because there are Chapters missing. Why? What happened to the final pages? All of a sudden the author dies, an apparent suicide. A letter sent to the publishers revealing his intent. Susan goes from editor to detective, and so does the reader. The tropes of mystery novel shift from fictional page to "real" life. We are on the hunt with her, for the missing pages, and possibly for a murderer.
As I said, cleverly written. I enjoyed both books. Fascinating clues, a disdain of an author for his creation, mockery of the mystery genre (within a mystery novel). Susan is the reader, the reader is Susan. She is likable, where Alan is detestable. You understand her anger towards him, towards what he has done to the series she so loved and a character she so admired. It is obvious why Alan Conway has become isolated; he has an ego, he is angry at being trapped with a character he despises, he wants to create something better, his other writing is rejected time and again. His other novels are political, critical, over-the-top, satires that would not be popular. However, his life, his passion, and his death are all for not; everything he has done or tries to do is ignored, the world moves on around him, churning even though he tried to turn the world against his creation, failing one last time to break Atticus Pünd's hold on him.
I was sent this advanced reader's copy by HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review.