'Magpie Murders' Recap: Episode 1

Daniel Hautzinger
Lesley Manville as book editor Susan Ryeland in 'Magpie Murders.'
Susan Ryeland is a book editor whose best-selling author is a mystery novelist. Photo: Eleventh Hour Films

Magpie Murders airs Sundays at 8:00 pm and is available to streamRecap the following episode.
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The editor Susan Ryeland has deals to make at the Frankfurt Book Fair, but fortunately her best-selling author at Clover Books, Alan Conway, has a new novel on the way: Magpie Murders, the next installment of the Atticus Pünd detective series. She’s also lucky to have a thoughtful boyfriend in Andreas Patakis, a teacher of Ancient Greek who calls Susan’s office to learn her hotel room and shows up all the way from England on his day off to spend the weekend with her.

Life is good for Susan. The head of her firm, Charles Clover, is negotiating a buy-out with a bigger company and wants Susan to take over Clover as he eases into retirement and grandparenthood—he’ll also make a tidy sum from the buy-out. Susan is still debating Charles’ offer, as she’s wary of the big company, but she has other good news, too: Alan Conway has delivered the manuscript of Magpie Murders.

Back in her London apartment, Susan makes a large gin and tonic, showers—makes another large gin and tonic—and settles in to a bag of chips and Alan’s manuscript.

It’s 1955, and Atticus Pünd has just learned from a doctor that he has little time left in this world, as an inoperable tumor is advancing rapidly.

Susan calls Charles in a flutter: he’s killing off Pünd, she says. Clover’s money-maker! She asks Charles to convince Alan to change his mind while he’s still in London—Alan had dinner with Charles on Thursday evening but is returning to his Suffolk estate soon. Susan has never gotten on with Alan, so she’d rather Charles, his friend, speak with the author.

Alan is certainly a bit of a curmudgeon. He made a scene at dinner with Charles, and on his train back home—Charles didn’t catch him—he writes a letter of apology. He’s prickly to any fans who approach for an autograph. His son dislikes him enough to key his car—“I wish he’d drop dead,” his son says to a friend. He gets in a standoff with his neighbor in their shared driveway, and neither man is willing to back down. And Alan has just kicked his young boyfriend, James Taylor, out of his house for being away and partying with his friends too much. Despite James’ apology, Alan forces him to leave in a cab, taking back the car he gifted James. Even Andreas, Susan’s boyfriend, doesn’t like Alan: he taught at the same school as Alan years ago, before Alan had even married his ex-wife Melissa.

Alan does have some reason to be a grump in the present, at least: in an odd mirroring of his fiction, he too has been diagnosed with cancer, and has a slim chance of survival. He doesn’t reveal his diagnosis to anyone.

Neither does Pünd, as Susan learns as she continues to read.

After his doctor appointment, Pünd meets reluctantly with a prospective client, Joy Sanderling. She’s engaged to Robert Blakiston, who works in a garage in the town of Saxby-on-Avon. She has come to Pünd hoping he can help dismiss village gossip that Robert murdered his mother, Mary. Mary and Robert  argued outside the local pub over his tardiness in fixing a light in her cottage on the grounds of Pye Hall, the ancestral home of Sir Magnus Pye, where she worked as the housekeeper. Robert ended the argument by yelling at her to “drop dead.” The next day, she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs of Pye Hall.

The local police seem suspicious of Robert, Joy tells Pünd and his assistant Fraser, but she knows Robert didn’t kill Mary: Joy stayed overnight at his apartment and was with him the morning Mary died. Mary was against Robert’s engagement to Joy, but she doesn’t want to tell Pünd why.

Pünd tells Joy he can’t help her. The gossip will eventually pass.

Alan doesn’t get along with his sister, Claire, either. She visits him to ask for her old job back and apologizes for speaking out of turn to him—even though he wasn’t paying her that much in the first place. As Alan takes a phone call, demanding that some papers be dropped off for him to sign the next day, a Sunday, Claire leafs through a Magpie Murders manuscript and comes across a description of Sir Magnus Pye’s sister, Clarissa, who was cast out of Pye Hall: unloved, ridiculed, in need of money, alone. Claire and the manuscript are gone when Alan returns.

That’s not the only thing missing involving the manuscript. Susan discovers it doesn’t have the last chapter. Andreas tells her to wait to speak to Charles until Monday. Andreas has bigger things on his mind: he is thinking about leaving his teaching job to buy and run a hotel back in Crete with his cousin. And he wants Susan to join him.

She’s shocked, and says no. She and Andreas both apologize for the testy interaction later, and he encourages Susan to consider the move.

When Susan arrives at work on Monday, she learns that the Clover assistant Jemima photocopied the manuscript, but Jemima is not around to ask about it. In fact, there’s more pressing news, as Charles tells Susan: Alan is dead.

Alan’s lawyer Sajid Khan found him on Sunday in the garden when he came to drop off some papers. It appears that Alan jumped off the tower of his home. Charles has received a suicide letter from Alan apologizing for his behavior at dinner and revealing that he had cancer. A Suffolk police inspector named Locke arrives at Clover’s office to inspect the letter and agrees that Alan must have committed suicide, but Susan is skeptical. Why jump off a tower, especially since it appears that Alan didn’t die instantly? And why was the envelope to Charles typed while the letter was handwritten? Locke dismisses her concerns.

Most of all, Susan wants to find the last chapter of Magpie Murders. Without it, Clover won’t have a book to sell and the buy-out might not happen. Charles says he checked the photocopier, and its page count matches what Alan gave them. Maybe he didn’t finish the book.

Susan decides to visit Alan’s home in Suffolk to see if she can find the chapter—he always handwrote his first draft. She can stay with her sister, who lives out there.

As she sets off from London in her convertible, she imagines she sees Pünd in the rearview mirror.