Anthony Horowitz Says 'Magpie Murders' Is His Best Adaptation Yet

First Look Photo from Magpie Murders
Lesley Manville and Timothy McMullan in Magpie Murders (BritBox UK/Masterpiece)

Though it does not have an announced release date yet, Masterpiece's Susanne Simpson confirmed in January that Magpie Murders was planned for a 2022 release, probably in the second half of the year. The series stars Lesley Manville (World On Fire) as Susan Ryeland, mystery author Alan Conway's long-time editor. Conway is best known for his well-received series of novels centering upon the detective Atticus Pünd. However, when he fails to deliver a manuscript on time, Ryeland turns up to see what's gone wrong, only to find him dead and his final manuscript the key to whodunit.

The novel is not exactly a straightforward translation, especially because Ryeland doesn't even show up for the first 200 or so pages, and when she does, we don't learn a lot about her. Instead, the reader experiences her reading the book and having ongoing conversations in her mind with Pünd, the fictional lead detective in it. Entire chapters occur as she sits in a chair reading, not exactly the stuff of action-adventure. Many times, the action moved from the period set mystery Conway was writing to the present and back again without much warning.

Telling a story within a story is already tricky, but this mystery within a mystery sometimes becomes wheels within wheels, and Ryeland gets closer to solving it. But Anthony Horowitz, who wrote the novel and is adapting it for the screen, tells Deadline he believes this version is "the first time I've really got it right," when it comes to capturing his work exactly on screen as it was meant to be done.

First Look Photo from Magpie Murders
(BritBox UK/Masterpiece)

It took a while to get there, though, with half a dozen drafts over two years to finally nail the six-episode series.

In the book, the mysteries happen one at a time, whereas in the show, I wanted to do them simultaneously, and that gave me the opportunity to do things that have never been done before. These two time periods are able to co-exist, and the viewer can step from one to another in the blink of an eye.

As for turning Ryeland into a TV series heroine, the first thing Horowitz had to do was have her show up from Scene 1 and give her a backstory, including a love life and a point of view beyond just trying to solve a murder. "It was very important to me that Susan is an editor, not a detective, and it's lovely to write for a mature woman as this isn't something one sees on screen that often. To have a mature career woman involved with a physical affair and pondering between her marriage and job was very satisfying." He also said that aiming for a more tongue-in-cheek tone rather than attempting to do a straight Agatha Christie-style mystery helped.

Lesley Manville will be joined by Conleth Hill (Vienna Blood) as Conway and Timothy McMullan (Patrick Melrose) as his alter-ego Pünd. The series co-stars Daniel Mays (Line of Duty), Alexandros Logothetis (The Island), Claire Rushbrook (Home Fires), Matthew Beard (Dracula), Pippa Haywood (Bridgerton), and Michael Maloney (The Crown). Whether or not BritBox is eying this to become a regular series, the way it did with The Beast Must Die, is not yet clear, but should the series be a hit, there may be more where this came from.

Magpie Murders is expected to debut on PBS sometime in 2022.