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Series / Magpie Murders

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Magpie Murders is a six-episode British TV series which aired in January 2022.

Susan Ryeland (Lesley Manville) is an editor for a publishing company. Her biggest author is Alan Conway (Conleth Hill), a mystery writer famous for a series of detective novels starring a character named Atticus Pünd. Ryeland receives the manuscript of Conway's latest novel, Magpie Murders, only to discover that the last chapter is missing from the manuscript. Soon after, Conway dies under mysterious circumstances. Ryeland must find the last chapter of Conway's novel, and, at the same time, solve his murder.

The series plays out with a story-within-a-story format in which Conway's last novel unfolds, with Atticus Pünd investigating his last case, while Susan tries to solve Conway's actual murder. It was adapted by Anthony Horowitz from his own novel, Magpie Murders.

Though the first series was produced by BritBox, it has been announced that the cast will return for Horowitz's adaptation of his sequel, Moonflower Murders, which will premiere on The BBC in 2024.


  • Acting for Two: Invoked. When the pages play out in front of Susan, almost everybody plays two roles. For example, Pippa Haywood doubles as spinster sister Clarissa and Alan's secretary sister, Alan's boyfriend James Taylor plays James Frazer as well, and Susan's father plays Sir Magnus.
  • Adaptational Alternate Ending: The ending is significantly more bittersweet than the book. Susan still triumphs, she and Andreas get back together as he rescues her from Charles, Susan and Andreas go to Crete, and she finds the missing chapter — but Susan and Katie's father dies, with Susan's final words to him being bitterly angry.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Susan and Katie's ill father, her mother's possible suicide/accidental death, and his subplot, including his death at the end of the series, are inventions of the series.
  • Adaptational Name Change: In the book, Mary Blakiston's younger son is named Tom. In the series, his name is Sam.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Alan is even more unlikeable in the series. He manipulated Katie into telling her backstory solely so he could put it in the book solely because It Amused Me and to get back at Susan for...editing his work.
  • Adapted Out: Robin isn't mentioned in Magpie Murders.
  • Adaptation Deviation:
    • In the book, Magnus Pye is an expy for Conway himself. In the series, he's one for Susan and Katie's seriously ill father.
    • In both story threads—Susan's story and Alan Conway's story-within-astory about Atticus Pünd—the vicar is a prime suspect. In this series, both Susan's vicar and Alan's vicar are greatly reduced in importance, adding little except for the funeral oration where Alan's vicar says something that helps Atticus make a breakthrough. This is likely because the Vicar in the novel, beyond being purely a Red Herring with no other plot significance, is revealed to be secretly a naturalist, which would likely be a step too far for the relatively family friendly BBC.
    • In the book, the waiter claims that Alan Conway stole his idea and used it for a previous book in the Atticus Pünd series. In the series, he says Conway stole his idea and used it for Magpie Murders.
    • In the book, the phone call that results in Mary Blakiston's death was from her ex-husband. In the series, it is from Lady Pye.
  • Age Lift: In the book, Susan Ryeland is said to be 47. Although her age is not given in the series, Lesley Manville was in her mid-sixties at the time of filming.
  • Ascended Extra:
    • Susan's sister Katie has at most two appearances in Magpie Murders (her role is bigger in the sequel). She's given a more prominent role from the beginning here.
    • Susan's boyfriend Andreas has a much larger role. In the book, the person photographed on the tower with Conway was Jack White, a local land developer and Conway's neighbor.
  • Asshole Victim: Basically, Alan was an irredeemable Jerkass and nobody liked him. James said that if it were a matter of Alan getting murdered, "There'd have been plenty of volunteers."
  • Chalk Outline: A Black Comedy joke. In the story-within-a-story, Sir Magnus was decapitated by a single stroke from a sword. The crime scene shows an outline in tape where the body fell—and a separate, smaller circle where the head landed.
  • Conversation Cut: In the first episode Susan is firing a bunch of pointed questions at the police detective, poking holes in his suicide theory. The cop leaves the conference room, and an embarrassed Charles says "I don't know why you had to get at him like that." Cut to the hallways of the publishing company as Susan says "I didn't get at him, Charles!"
  • Composite Character: Andreas takes on a lot of elements of Jack White, a local property developer who confronted Alan before his death.
  • Creator Backlash: In-Universe. Alan Conway wanted to write Serious Fiction, but nobody was interested. So after his serious books failed, and at his wife's urging, he wrote an Atticus Pünd whodunit, which became a massive hit. So Conway wound up writing a series of detective bestsellers, all the while hating them and hating everyone who liked them.
  • Dramatic Drop: A waiter, at the restaurant where Alan met Charles, dramatically drops two plates. It turns out that the waiter is an amateur mystery writer who took a class, and Alan stole the plot of "Magpie Murders" from him.
  • Dramatic Sit-Down: In the show within a show, Atticus does this in the doctor's office after getting his diagnosis of terminal cancer.
  • Dream Sequence: Susan has a dream in which Alan's fictional detective, Atticus Pünd, comes to her and tells her that Alan's death must have been murder.
  • Figure It Out Yourself: At one point, Atticus openly admits to Frazer that he's figured out the truth behind the deaths; however, he refuses to share what he's learned, insisting that it's not time yet and that his partner needs to put the pieces together himself. Frazer is less than amused.
  • Get Out!: One of Susan's 'conversations' with Atticus ends with her stopping her car and ordering the fictional detective out in this fashion. Atticus seems rather bemused by the whole outburst.
  • Hero's Classic Car: Susan's 1967 MG roadster.
  • It Amused Me: Alan's motivation for doing anything, whether it's Andreas's loan or writing.
  • Mistaken for Racist: Joy assumes that her skin color is the reason why Mary disapproves of Joy's impending marriage to her son. In truth, the "taint" that she speaks of refers to her fear that her son's homicidal tendencies will be passed on to any children they might have.
  • Painting the Fourth Wall: Alan and Susan argue about starting an Atticus Pünd novel with a flashback, with Susan considering it a poorly-written crutch. Each episode after that, including that one, starts with a flashback.
  • Poor Man's Porn: Poor man's pedophile porn. Episode 5 reveals that in the story-within-the-story, Brent the gardener likes to read Boy Scout magazines.
  • Precision F-Strike: Subverted. In the novel, Susan does say the last word of the anagram multiple times — "a stupid cunt" — but in the series, she just spells out "a stupid..." and then leaves the remaining letters scrambled for the audience to work out the rest.
  • Reveal Shot: One scene shows Susan talking about the mystery to her boyfriend Andreas. She hangs up—and the camera pans over to reveal that Andreas is in the office of Alan Conway's lawyer. The lawyer then hands Andreas a mysterious check.
  • Revenge via Storytelling: Conway is even more bitter and unlikeable with regard to this in the series (see Adaptational Villainy).
  • Race Lift: A plot-relevant one that makes this more of a Pragmatic Adaptation. In the book, Mary's prejudice towards Joy apparently stemmed from Joy's brother, who has Down's Syndrome. He's Adapted Out of the series and Joy explains that Mary's prejudice seems to have stemmed from Joy's skin color (she's black).
  • Shout-Out:
    • The show, like the book, is strongly influenced by Agatha Christie. Alan in fact is shown thumbing through a Christie book in his montage in the opening scene. Atticus Pünd is a detective of the Hercule Poirot school. When Susan observes that Alan took his chapter titles from nursery rhyme "One for Sorrow", she says "It's very Agatha Christie." Christie did in fact have a habit of taking titles and other inspiration from nursery rhymes. (Later, Susan says flat-out that Alan "stole" from Christie.)
    • When Andreas asks Susan about moving to Greece, she says she's "not bloody Shirley Valentine."
  • Show Within a Show: Scenes from Alan's last book are interspersed with scenes from the modern day.
  • The "The" Title Confusion: More plot-relevant than most examples of this trope. Alan is incensed when Charles suggests changing the title to "The Magpie Murders", shouting that the title has to be "Magpie Murders". Why? Because adding a "the" would ruin the anagram.
  • There Are No Coincidences: In a novel scene, Atticus says "There are no such things as coincidences" when his assistant James suggests that it could be a coincidence that Sir Magnus's maid died in a fall at the house a very short time before Sir Magnus himself was murdered.
  • The Watson: The story-within-a-story version of James, or as the "real" James describes him, "the thick assistant". Real James is offended that Alan's caricature of him as Book James is as the dumb guy that is supposed to make Atticus look smart.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Susan is utterly furious upon realizing that Andreas hasn't been entirely truthful with her, and several failed attempts to contact him culminate with her storming his classroom and demanding answers. Andreas then turns the tables upon her, aghast and heartsick to realize how little she appears to trust him.
  • Writer's Block Montage: The first scene of the first episode shows Alan struggling with his book, muttering and shouting with frustration, thumbing through an Agatha Christie book for inspiration, and chucking paper across the room as he starts and stops multiple times.
  • Write What You Know: In-Universe, Alan Conway was given to do this. The people close to him are characters in his books. His young boyfriend James asks if he's still in the novel, and in fact he is, as Pünd's young assistant. His sister Mary is deeply hurt by the very thinly veiled portrait of her in the story. Also, when Alan finds out that he is terminally ill with cancer, he writes it into the story so that Pünd is too.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: Alan has terminal cancer. He writes it into his book, so that his regular protagonist, Atticus Pünd, does too.