Mr Magenta by Christopher Bowden – a review

A cover for bookish mystery set in South London

Who is, or was Mr Magenta? And what did he have to do with bookish solicitor Stephen Marling’s late Aunt Flora? Marling, recently returned from an eventful period working in New York, determines to find out. This is the central question driving the plot of this entertaining mystery, where nothing is quite as it seems, or indeed, as quiet as it seems. 

Mr Magenta opens in sleepy Paxton Square, tucked far from the bright lights, in a corner of an anonymous South London suburb – though there’s a clue in the name. The Square’s residents seem to do little more than potter about in their gardens and invite each other over for tea and cake. The Square’s only regular rush of adrenalin ripples through with the advent of the annual fete, the one occasion when strangers are welcomed in with open arms.

However, with the arrival of Marling, who has inherited his deceased Aunt Flora’s house in the square, we soon learn that, even tranquil metropolitan havens may shelter secrets. As he goes through his Aunt’s things, Stephen uncovers various intriguing hidden items, including a series of photographs torn into pieces, but kept safely together, along with written references to the puzzling Mr Magenta. 

This name, which may or may not be an anagram – bringing to mind Anna Madrigal of Tales of the City – is not the book’s only curiously named character. Several are given Cluedo-like names, that perhaps reflect their personal traits. These include, brassy Miss Bugle, Mr Parody, bookseller Anthony Buffo of Toad Books and demure Miss Wilting, who perhaps inevitably, is not as vanilla as she first appears. Of central concern to the plot though, is the question of the eponymous Magenta and what his connection was to Stephen Marling’s elderly relative. 

As Stephen begins to delve into his aunt’s past, he begins to wonder what he really wants out of his own life. Not least, should he have been as quick to come running back to England as he was? After all, his new circumstances rather lack the buzz of Manhattan and Brooklyn. He has also left behind the potential treasures of New York’s used bookstores and the manic pixie indie dream girl charms of aspiring actress Nancy Steiner. 

From the off, Bowden draws readers into the intrigue along with Marling as he investigates his personal family mystery, eventually discovering – by way of a theatre in Marseille and a tiny hamlet in the east of England – that even the smallest seeming lives in the past, can have an unexpectedly large impact on those of the present. 

Mr Magenta, 
Christopher Bowden.
2022, Langton & Wood 
£8.99

Available from The Bookseller Crow,
Crystal Palace & other good bookshops. 

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