Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she’s always wanted. But is it? She’s exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she’s beginning to miss London.
And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Halle—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts.
One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime.
The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.
Moonflower Murders is the second in the Susan Ryeland series, and the first – Magpie Murders – has a similar premise, in that it’s a sort of ‘murder mystery within a murder mystery’. In this book, our protagonist, ex book editor Susan, is asked to investigate the murder of a man (Frank) who stayed at a hotel in Suffolk, and the subsequent disappearance of the owner, Cecily, as the two may seem to have links to a book by the ever-puzzling late Alan Conway. He’s an author we met in book 1 (so it’s worth reading Magpie Murders first, though certainly not essential to enjoy this novel), who Susan published during her time as an editor, and he is known for slipping clues and riddles into his work.
I really enjoy books where characters who aren’t police or detectives investigate, though of course at times their powers of deduction seem surprisingly good, and in this novel Susan provides a brilliant main character. She’s not perfect but she’s sharp, insightful and determined to unearth the secrets around the murder and disappearance.
Of course, just having that storyline is far too simple for Anthony Horowitz! Susan reads one of the Atticus Pund novels, which Cecily read right before she disappeared and which she claimed helped her realise who killed Frank, and we read along with her. So, we get a complete story within a story, with lots of parallel characters and occurrences – but which are intentional, and where is the elusive information that will help us understand who killed Frank? Needless to say, the plot is full of mystery, riddles and clues, and I loved reading them all and trying to work out what had happened (and, of course, completely failing!)
Moonflower Murders is satisfyingly complex, but very readable too. For anyone who is a crime fiction fan, this series is a must-read!