All this makes us want to try our own luck at literary detection. We’ll read the book and solve the mystery! But Horowitz doesn’t get to “Atticus Pünd Takes the Case” until midway through “Moonflower Murders.” Until then, Susan meets the interested parties and is greeted with the requisite hostility, evasiveness and prevarication.
“I didn’t believe a single word he was saying to me, and the strange thing was, I don’t think he wanted me to,” she says of one of her interviewees, the outwardly charming brother-in-law of the original murder victim. (The man’s wife surely doesn’t want Susan nosing around. “Just go away,” she hisses.)
Just as we’re beginning to make sense of the elaborate tale of Cecily, her husband and their French nanny; the Trehernes’ bitter, less-attractive other daughter; and assorted sketchy relatives, neighbors and hotel workers, we get to “Atticus Pünd Takes the Case” and plunge headlong into another reality.
This second full novel comes with its own title page, dedication, author’s bio and compilation of vacuously favorable endorsements destined to make a book reviewer feel a little sheepish. (“Lock the door, curl up in front of the fire and get into the latest Alan Conway,” says the fake blurb from Good Housekeeping magazine. “It won’t disappoint.”)
Conway’s novel, set in the 1950s, features a beautiful aging actress with a handsome younger husband and a good chance of landing a leading part in Hitchcock’s next movie, “Dial M for Murder.” Sadly, she is bludgeoned to death before she has a chance to meet with the director. (Grace Kelly will end up getting the job.)
Alert readers will admire the way Pünd, the detective hired to investigate, recalls the great Hercule Poirot, and how the story itself feels like a return to the cozy mysteries of our youth. (Conway “revered Agatha Christie and often stole ideas from her,” Susan notes.) But I doubt reading “Atticus Pünd Takes the Case” will help you solve the mystery in “Moonflower Murders” any more than it helped me. The reader’s feeble flashes of understanding are no match for Horowitz’s brand of three-dimensional chess, and the answers will be uncovered only through Susan’s expert textual analysis.
The book (the real, full book by Horowitz, that is) is too long and almost too labyrinthine. But getting lost in the weeds can be excellent fun, especially when the characters start trashing the very genre in which they’re appearing.