Friday, February 20, 2015

Review of Judith Flanders's A Murder of Magpies

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders (Minotaur, February 24, 2015)

Samantha "Sam" Clair is a book editor at a small but reputable London publishing firm. Sam has designed her wardrobe to function more as camouflage than style, so it's surprising that one of her best friends is Kit Lovell, a fashion journalist who also writes gossipy exposés about celebrity fashionistas.

When Kit disappears, and it looks like somebody is out to destroy all copies of his latest manuscript, which promises to be a tell-all about the death of designer Rodrigo Alemán and financial shenanigans in boutiques associated with him, Sam is worried and frustrated. The police aren't pulling out all the stops to find Kit, though they have assigned Detective Inspector Jake Field to ask questions about the death of a courier who may have been carrying a copy of the manuscript to Sam's office.

Much to Field's dismay, he's unable to get Sam to stop investigating on her own. But when he starts spending a lot more time with her, at least he can keep a little more of an eye on her . . .

Though this quick read has plenty of sleuthing, its main attraction is Sam's world. Sam appears to be a little gray mouse surrounded by much more colorful and fierce members of the animal kingdom. Sitting outside Sam's office is her sharp Goth secretary, Miranda. Ready to pounce across the meeting room table is Sam's chief rival editor, Ben, who thinks he's cornered the market for young and edgy novelists and that Sam is past it. But the alpha is Sam's mother, Helena, a supremely successful corporate attorney who has done a complete workout before Sam is out of bed in the morning, puts in a full day of work and then goes to every important play, gallery showing and party while Sam is curled up at home with a manuscript and a glass of wine.

Sam's office is in a drafty old building.
Not this one, though.
But underneath that unassuming exterior, Sam is clever and determined. She knows how to wage undercover office warfare, and how to make sense of the bits of information she is able to garner about the fashion world to try to find out what happened to Kit. She also knows when it's best to team up with Jake and Helena--and quite a team they make.

There are several other appealing side characters in the book, including Sam's reclusive upstairs neighbor, Mr. Rudiger. The inside look at the publishing world is also a pleasure, particularly Sam vs. Ben and a plot line about one of Sam's most successful authors, Breda––who sounds a lot like Maeve Binchy––and the resulting kerfuffle when Breda turns in what seems to be a disastrous wrong turn into chick-lit.

Sam Clair is likable new protagonist and her friends, family and workplace are entertaining. If this turns into a series, it's definitely one I will follow. I hope Jake becomes a more fleshed-out character in any future books.

I should note that if you're a cozy reader, there are several F-bombs dropped in the book, but it contains no graphic sex or violence.

It may also be worth noting that although this is a debut novel, author Judith Flanders has had a long career as an editor and is the author of the nonfiction book The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime (Thomas Dunne, 2013).

Note: Thanks to Minotaur and the Amazon Vine program for providing a complimentary review copy of the book. Versions of this review may appear on Amazon, Goodreads, BookLikes and other review sites under my usernames there.


  1. According to "Stop, you're killing me", Judith Flanders published "Writers' block", the first book in the Samantha Clair series, in 2014.

  2. Interesting. When I checked the link on SYKM and read the book description, it sounds like the same book. It looks like Writer's Block is the title of the book when it was published in 2014 in the UK. I wish the publishers would disclose this stuff more prominently. I can't tell you how many times I've bought a book I already read because the US and UK titles were different!

  3. Oh, that's very interesting! As well as annoying. Thanks for letting me know.

  4. None the less no matter what the title I think I'll add this book to my TBR not list or shelf but room.

  5. The next in the series is coming out in about a month in the UK called A Bed of Scorpions.

  6. Yes! I just got a copy of MURDER OF MAGPIES. I was looking forward to it but now I'm REALLY looking forward to it! In fact, with our snowy weather here I'm tempted to just dive straight in, though I did have one in mind already. Agh! Too many to choose from!