Review: The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Twist of a Knife by Anthony HorowitzThe Twist of a Knife (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, #4) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #4
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on November 15, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

'Our deal is over.'
That's what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind.
His new play, Mindgame, is about to open in London's Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket.
On opening night, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it.
Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby's murder, thrown into prison and interrogated.
Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him.
But will Hawthorne take his call?

My Review:

In this fourth outing of the extremely unlikely duo of Daniel Hawthorne and his reluctant scribe – and all too frequently foil – Anthony Horowitz (yes, the author, really, truly and probably sorta/kinda all at once), it’s Horowitz himself who is accused of murder and quite thoroughly stitched up into the bargain.

He needs Hawthorne, which puts Hawthorne very much in the catbird seat of their strange partnership. Horowitz, referred to as ‘Tony’ in the book to differentiate himself as character from his real self as author, has just turned down Hawthorne’s request that they pair up for yet a fourth book, after The Word is Murder, The Sentence is Death and A Line to Kill.

Tony feels like he’s both out of punny titles and out of patience with Hawthorne. The former, obviously not as it turns out. The latter, frequently and often.

But Hawthorne is sure they have an entire series in them, and lo and behold, they do!

Escape Rating A+: The Hawthorne and Horowitz series is a quirky read. If you like it, you really, really like it (obviously I do), but if its quirks don’t quite set your tastes on fire, they don’t. It’s a break the fourth wall kind of series, with a heaping helping of art imitating life rather a lot.

The Horowitz of the series title is the author of the book, Anthony Horowitz. He’s a version – at least I presume it’s a version – of his real-life self, Anthony Horowitz the novelist and playwright, the creative mind behind the still totally awesome TV series Foyle’s War, etc., etc., etc. But he is far, far from the hero of this series.

He plays Watson to the Sherlock of ex-London Metropolitan police detective Daniel Hawthorne. And it’s a bumbling Watson who sometimes makes the most vapid and insipid portrayals of Watson look like absolute geniuses. (Edward Hardwicke’s wonderful and intelligent take on Watson in the Granada TV series with Jeremy Brett ‘Tony’ most certainly is NOT.)

In other words, the author resisted what must have been a great temptation to make himself the hero of this series and instead turned himself into its everyman substitute for the audience, the character who is not able to follow the ‘great detective’, in this case Hawthorne, and requires that every clue be explained to him – and therefore to the audience as well.

Which is part of the charm of this series, and also part of why it runs so much against type for me as a reader and yet I still adore the damn thing. Because I usually read mysteries for their competence porn aspects. The investigator in the series usually demonstrates extreme competence in order to solve the twisty murder. And that’s not exactly what happens here.

Tony is far from competent as an amateur detective, in spite of the many mysteries he’s written. He’s always at least two steps behind Hawthorne. Which actually isn’t too bad as the real police are at least three or four steps behind him. But still, he’s made his own character a bit of a nebbish and I can’t help but wonder if that reflects real life AT ALL. I suspect not or he wouldn’t be half as successful as he is.

But I digress.

Hawthorne, on the other hand, is über-competent. He’s just a secretive asshole about it. So we don’t get to see what he’s really doing or thinking until the very end when he makes everyone involved look like utter fools. Because they were. So he’s extremely competent but we don’t get to enjoy it because he’s such a jerk about pretty much everything.

Like most mysteries where the official police are more interested in scoring off the private detective – in this case Hawthorne and by extension his ‘associate’ Tony – than solving the crime, the first suspect is never the real murderer. So it can’t be Tony, no matter how the evidence seems stacked against him.

That the victim was a vile individual that had made a career out of publicly venting their spleen should have led even the dimmest bulb to the possibility that the line of possible murderers would be long enough to circle the country at least twice. To the point where I was beginning to wonder if it was going to turn out to be a Murder on the Orient Express situation.

In the end, the solution is ingenious, the motive was both simple and complex at the same time, the killer was exposed but no one got their just desserts except the woman who was already dead. And that was exactly right.

While Hawthorne got his series after all. Which is fantastic!

While I can’t find any word on when the projected fifth, sixth and seventh (!) books in the Hawthorne and Horowitz series will be out, or even the next book in the Susan Ryeland series which I also love (even when it’s driving me crazy), the first book in that series, Magpie Murders, is now available as a 6-episode TV series. And I’m off to watch it ASAP!

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony HorowitzA Line To Kill (Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, #3) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Hawthorne and Horowitz #3
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on October 19, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The New York Times bestselling author of the brilliantly inventive The Word Is Murder and The Sentence Is Death returns with his third literary whodunit featuring intrepid detectives Hawthorne and Horowitz.
When Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, author Anthony Horowitz, are invited to an exclusive literary festival on Alderney, an idyllic island off the south coast of England, they don’t expect to find themselves in the middle of murder investigation—or to be trapped with a cold-blooded killer in a remote place with a murky, haunted past.
Arriving on Alderney, Hawthorne and Horowitz soon meet the festival’s other guests—an eccentric gathering that includes a bestselling children’s author, a French poet, a TV chef turned cookbook author, a blind psychic, and a war historian—along with a group of ornery locals embroiled in an escalating feud over a disruptive power line.
When a local grandee is found dead under mysterious circumstances, Hawthorne and Horowitz become embroiled in the case. The island is locked down, no one is allowed on or off, and it soon becomes horribly clear that a murderer lurks in their midst. But who?
Both a brilliant satire on the world of books and writers and an immensely enjoyable locked-room mystery, A Line to Kill is a triumph—a riddle of a story full of brilliant misdirection, beautifully set-out clues, and diabolically clever denouements.

My Review:

Think of this story, in fact, think of this entire series, as taking place surrounded by the rubble of the “fourth wall” that author Anthony Horowitz continually demolishes by making himself a character in his own series.

And not even the hero of it. He’s the narrator, but he’s definitely not the star of this show. That position is reserved for – really taken over by – detective Daniel Hawthorne, formerly of the London Metropolitan Police and currently working for himself and whoever is willing to pay him to figure out whodunnit when the Met is stumped.

Or when he’s way, way off their patch, as he and “Tony” are in this story.

After the previous books in this series, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, where Hawthorne barges in, completely disrupts “Tony’s” life, drags him along on a case and never lets the man catch his breath, this case begins when Tony reluctantly agrees with his agent’s notion to send both himself and Hawthorne to a literary festival in the Channel Islands. Tony hopes that this will finally be the first time in their contentious acquaintance that Tony will be in his element and Hawthorne will need at least a little bit of his help and guidance.

But Hawthorne has an agenda of his own on Alderney and is just going along with this literary festival idea for the ride to a place he wants to get to anyway. And, as much as this might not be the mostly anti-social Hawthorne’s natural setting – he’s VERY good at playing whatever part is necessary to get him who and what he needs to achieve whatever he’s set out to do.

Whatever Hawthorne’s private agenda, and Tony’s anger and disappointment when he figures it out, their entire reason for being on Alderney ends up taking a back seat to murder. Specifically the murder of the man responsible for funding the literary festival, and coincidentally – or perhaps not – responsible for the current controversy that is tearing tiny Alderney apart.

Considering that Alderney has a population of around 2,000, it’s not much of a surprise that they have a police force of 3. That none of the three are actually available to work this case is a bit of an issue, but considering that no one can remember the last time there was a murder on Alderney, they’re not much missed. But the police force on the nearby islands isn’t much bigger – or much more experienced with murder. (If anyone remembers the TV series Bergerac, there’s no one like him anywhere in evidence – and this was a case that could certainly have used an experienced detective with local knowledge and no axe to grind.)

Naturally they ask for Hawthorne’s help. And just as naturally, Hawthorne assumes that Tony will tag along as chronicler, occasional foil, and, just as important from Hawthorne’s perspective, the person who will pay all the bills.

So Tony finds himself in the exact position he had no desire to be in again, serving as Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock – and one of the less ept Watsons into the bargain. Meanwhile Hawthorne is on the track of a murderer that Tony is certain no one will feel an ounce of sympathy for, making any book coming out of this case a nonstarter.

However, as their previous cases have proven, in the end Hawthorne is always right, and Tony is inevitably barking up the wrong tree when it comes to figuring out whodunnit. There might be a book in this mess after all.

Escape Rating B+: Both of the author’s current series, the Susan Ryeland series that starts with Magpie Murders and the Hawthorne and Horowitz series, take the concepts of a classic murder mystery and wrap them up in ways that the authors of those classics never would have thought of.

In the Susan Ryeland series, that’s literal, as the classic-style mysteries of Atticus Pünd, which are included in their entirety in each book, provide clues to the more recent murder that Susan Ryeland is bumbling her way towards solving.

In the Hawthorne and Horowitz series it’s a bit more of a stretch, but still definitely there, and not just because the main characters are so obviously avatars for Holmes and Watson, albeit a Holmes who is even more sociopathic and self-absorbed than the original, leading around a Watson who is even more bumbling. Not that saying any of that doesn’t feel slightly weird, as it’s the author of the book inserting himself into the narrative as a character, which gets more than a bit meta.

But the mystery that Hawthorne is presented with in this case begins as something that Dame Agatha Christie – at least in the person of Hercule Poirot – would have had a great time solving. The victim is wealthy – and he’s an absolute bastard. The line of people wanting to murder him is long, to the point where the title of the book is a pun on the concept. Alderney is a relatively remote location, an island that can be closed so that the potential suspects are forced to remain, while the murder itself begins as a locked room murder in the victim’s own mansion.

All of those are plot elements that Christie played with more than once, and quite successfully. It’s not a surprise that another mystery writer would take those same ingredients and make something quite a bit different from them. Because, of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

Except the victim’s bastardy. That was most definitely real. And the point of quite a lot.

The case is even more complicated than it initially appeared to be. At first, it just seems difficult, but as Hawthorne digs into the lives and motives of the potential suspects, it gets deeper as well. And puts at least some of his own motives for coming to Alderney on display. A bit. As much as Hawthorne ever displays much of any part of his internal life.

Or to put it another way, once the body was discovered, the story got really fascinating really quickly. It was much more fun following Horowitz following Hawthorne as he investigated than it was hanging around as Tony groused – mostly to himself – about getting there and being there and dealing with Hawthorne and the other authors at the festival.

The other stories in this series started with murder. This one takes a while to work itself up to that sticking point. Once it does, it’s off to the races, while throwing out plenty of red herrings for the reader, along with Tony, to chew on.

The thing is, Tony doesn’t actually like Hawthorne, which is fair, because Hawthorne is not at all likeable. It makes the early part of this book awkward because all of their interactions are frustrating, and Tony is clearly frustrated by pretty much everything involved in his odd relationship with Hawthorne. Absent a case, their conversations seem rather forced – only because they are. But it makes for a bit of a slow read until they have a case in hand.

Also, and very much the point, Tony may not like Hawthorne, but he is utterly fascinated by him. And so are we. So once Hawthorne is in his element, solving a mystery, the relationship between them falls into a place from which we can watch the master at his work – even if, or especially because, we can’t see where he’s heading with it until the end. Or somebody’s end. Or both.

“Tony” may not want to work with Hawthorne again. Ever. But I really hope he does.

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + Giveaway

Review: Moonflower Murders by Anthony Horowitz + GiveawayMoonflower Murders (Susan Ryeland #2) by Anthony Horowitz
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Susan Ryeland #2
Pages: 608
Published by Harper on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Featuring his famous literary detective Atticus Pund and Susan Ryeland, hero of the worldwide bestseller Magpie Murders, a brilliantly complex literary thriller with echoes of Agatha Christie from New York Times bestselling author Anthony Horowitz.
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland is living the good life. She is running a small hotel on a Greek island with her long-term boyfriend Andreas. It should be everything she's always wanted. But is it? She's exhausted with the responsibilities of making everything work on an island where nothing ever does, and truth be told she's beginning to miss London.
And then the Trehearnes come to stay. The strange and mysterious story they tell, about an unfortunate murder that took place on the same day and in the same hotel in which their daughter was married—a picturesque inn on the Suffolk coast named Farlingaye Halle—fascinates Susan and piques her editor’s instincts. 
One of her former writers, the late Alan Conway, author of the fictional Magpie Murders, knew the murder victim—an advertising executive named Frank Parris—and once visited Farlingaye Hall. Conway based the third book in his detective series, Atticus Pund Takes the Cake, on that very crime. 
The Trehearne’s, daughter, Cecily, read Conway’s mystery and believed the book proves that the man convicted of Parris’s murder—a Romanian immigrant who was the hotel’s handyman—is innocent. When the Trehearnes reveal that Cecily is now missing, Susan knows that she must return to England and find out what really happened.
Brilliantly clever, relentlessly suspenseful, full of twists that will keep readers guessing with each revelation and clue, Moonflower Murders is a deviously dark take on vintage English crime fiction from one of its greatest masterminds, Anthony Horowitz.  

My Review:

For a dead man Alan Conway certainly does manage to get around. He even manages to cause just as much mischief from the grave as he did while alive. Something that he is probably looking down upon, or more likely up towards from below, with a great deal of pride if not utter glee.

In life, Alan Conway was not what one would call a “good person”, even if he was a very good author of very twisty mysteries. Until he became part of one himself, in the story that is told in the first book of the Susan Ryeland series, Magpie Murders.

As a reader, I wasn’t expecting to see Ryeland, Conway, or the detective character that Conway created, Atticus Pünd, ever again. After all, as Charles Dickens so eloquently opened A Christmas Carol, “Marley was dead to begin with” just as Alan Conway is at the start of Moonflower Murders. Atticus Pünd was a product of Conway’s now dead imagination, and Susan Ryeland is not just out of a job at the end of Magpie Murders, but the publishing company she worked for is as dead as Conway.

I have to say that of the three of them, I missed Atticus Pünd the most. In my review of Magpie Murders I said that I really wished the Pünd series actually existed because I would love to read them. Based on Moonflower Murders, it is entirely possible that I might get my wish.

There is a complete Atticus Pünd mystery enclosed within the pages of Moonflower Murders. However, unlike Magpie Murders, the title of both the book by Anthony Horowitz is different from the Atticus Pünd book by Alan Conway that forms the heart of the case that Susan Ryeland finds herself stuck in the middle of, whether that’s where she wants to be, or not.

In this case it’s more like wants to be. Or at least wants to be if there has to be a case at all. Which there definitely does. And it’s all, just as it was in Magpie Murders, Alan Conway’s fault.

As this story opens, it’s been two years since the events of Magpie Murders brought Susan Ryeland’s career in publishing to an end, and brought Alan Conway to his. His end, that is. (His books seem to be doing just fine.) Susan is now the co-owner of a small hotel in Crete, with her business-and-domestic partner Andreas. At the point where the Trehernes, Conway and this case invade her life, the hotel is losing money, Susan has lost her patience with being a hotel owner and her relationship with Andreas has lost much of its steam.

So she’s ready for a change, or at least a break. The Trehernes in their tragedy offer her both a partial solution to the hotel’s problems and a break from her own. They are willing to pay her 10,000 pounds to come back to England and stay at their hotel for a week. (That’s nearly $14,000 (US) so enough to make a serious dent in the inn’s financial problems. A real temptation on that front alone, without Susan’s other reasons for taking a break from Crete, innkeeping and Andreas.)

The Trehernes’ visit has nothing to do with their common interest in small hotels and everything to do with Alan Conway and Atticus Pünd. Because Alan Conway visited their hotel, Bramlow Hall, and wrote about a real-life murder that took place there. Of course Atticus Pünd solved the fictitious murder, but their daughter, after reading Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, believed that Alan Conway had solved the real murder as well.

A belief that she conveyed to her parents in a rather frantic telephone call, just before she went missing.

The police have not found Cecily Treherne, and her parents are desperate to grasp at any straws that might lead to their missing daughter. Alan Conway is beyond grasping at, but his editor Susan Ryeland is not.

Whether Susan can figure out what it was that Cecily Treherne believed that Alan Conway knew is a long shot. But it’s one that Susan is willing to try in order to get away from Crete and gain some perspective on her life there.

She goes into the whole thing thinking that it’s a clever puzzle that she might just have a chance at solving. And it is. But it’s also digging up the dirt in a whole lot of lives that thought they had put it all behind them. For those people, it’s not just a clever puzzle.

And for someone, it’s murder. Again.

Escape Rating A-: This is a book that I began in audio and switched to the ebook relatively early on. I got to the weekend, didn’t have any place I needed to drive to, and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.

And it was a whole lot easier to peek ahead to see where the Atticus Pünd book started in the ebook!

This book within a book contrasts the process of the extremely amateur detective, Susan Ryeland, against the tried-and-true methods of the professional detective Atticus Pünd. And it’s clear from the outset that Susan is in WAY over her head in a way that Pünd never is. Also that Susan has to reckon with a lot more pesky reality than the fictitious detective ever does – lucky for him.

But then, Pünd reads as if he is both an homage to Dame Agatha Christie’s celebrated detective Hercule Poirot and his antithesis. Both are post-war refugees, neither are English. Making them both outsiders who can investigate a case without bias or prejudice. Both are acknowledged geniuses. At the same time, they are refugees from different wars, Belgium was neutral before it fell while Germany was the enemy. The biggest difference between the two is that Pünd seems to have relatively few affectations while Poirot seems to be the accumulation of his.

And in the background there’s the late and mostly unlamented Alan Conway. Certainly no one at Bramlow Hall misses him. But Susan is following his trail, hoping to see either what he saw, what the missing Cecily Treherne saw, or to figure things out for herself.

But Conway had an advantage – he knew many of the principals before he ever entered the scene. Susan, however, has a different advantage. She, like Pünd, is an outsider. She arrives with no preconceived notions about who might have done it.

She’s a blank slate as an investigator, but she’s often just plain drawing a blank, knowing that there’s something she isn’t seeing or isn’t putting together. She’s just not sure what. As this story is told from Susan’s first-person perspective, whatever blank she’s drawing – we’re drawing it too.

Normally I’d say that with a first-person narrator it’s important to like the person whose head you’re in. I have to say that isn’t true here, or at least it wasn’t true for me. I’m not sure I actually like Susan much. She treats all of the people involved in the case as though she were reading a book and they’re all just characters – and not real people whose lives are being upended for the second time.

That she isn’t sure of anything, not whodunnit, not who Alan thought done it, not even why she’s there or where her life is going felt both real and off-putting at the same time. Probably part of why I like Atticus Pünd better is that he always seems sure of his course – even when he isn’t.

All Susan is sure of is that she’s pissing everyone off nearly as much as Conway did before her. And that the missing Cecily Treherne, whether she solved the mystery or not, was most likely dead long before Susan arrived back in England.

What keeps this story moving, and keeps both the reader and Susan Ryeland guessing every step of the way, are the multiple mysteries that need to be unraveled at Bramlow Hall. Who committed the original murder? What happened to Cicely Treherne? What did Alan Conway know? And the key that unlocks the entire mystery, who committed the murder in Atticus Pünd Takes the Case?

This is a series that just didn’t seem plausible after Magpie Murders. But I’m so glad it’s here! Maybe we’ll even get to read ALL of the Atticus Pünd series before Susan Ryeland’s career as an amateur detective goes the way of her publishing career.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Moonflower Murders is the first of three days of book giveaways for this year’s Blogo-Birthday Celebration. This felt like the right book to start with for two reasons. The first reason, and the most important, I always fill this week with books I love and want to share, and this author always fills that bill. Even when his characters infuriate me, I love the stories he tells with them. Moonflower Murders was certainly no exception to that rule. Second, the author and I share our birthday, April 5, although he’s just a smidge older than I am, which makes me feel a tiny bit better about the whole thing.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by Anthony Horowitz (up to $25 US to include Moonflower Murders), whether in this series or any of his other series or standalones.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony HorowitzThe Sentence is Death (Hawthorne, #2) by Anthony Horowitz, Rory Kinnear
Format: audiobook, eARC
Source: purchased from Audible, supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Hawthorne #2
Pages: 384
Published by HarperAudio on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

8 hours, 36 minutes

Death, deception, and a detective with quite a lot to hide stalk the pages of Anthony Horowitz’s brilliant murder mystery, the second in the bestselling series starring Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne.

“You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late . . . “

These, heard over the phone, were the last recorded words of successful celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine—a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.

Odd, considering he didn’t drink. Why this bottle? And why those words? And why was a three-digit number painted on the wall by the killer? And, most importantly, which of the man’s many, many enemies did the deed?

Baffled, the police are forced to bring in Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, the author Anthony, who’s really getting rather good at this murder investigation business.

But as Hawthorne takes on the case with characteristic relish, it becomes clear that he, too, has secrets to hide. As our reluctant narrator becomes ever more embroiled in the case, he realizes that these secrets must be exposed—even at the risk of death . . .

My Review:

This series doesn’t so much break the fourth wall as hammer it down to the ground with a police truncheon – and extreme prejudice.

The Sentence is Death begins much the same way that The Word is Murder kicked off the series – with an unexplained death and ex-cop turned police consultant Daniel Hawthorne interrupting our author/his Watson in the midst of an important real-life event.

Anthony Horowitz was late to the set on the first day of shooting season 7 of Foyle’s War. Whether the day went exactly as outlined in The Sentence is Death, both the series and the episode are as portrayed in this book. You can still hear the echoes of the fourth wall shattering from here.

Horowitz, more explicitly Watson to Hawthorne’s not just misanthropic but often downright sociopathic Holmes, finds himself dragged into yet another one of Hawthorne’s strangely compelling cases. A case that has already cost at least one man his life, and might very well cost the author his career – if he’s not careful.

The problem for the author is that while he’s never sure that he actually likes Hawthorne – and it’s impossible to blame him for that judgment – the man only comes to “Tony” when he has a truly puzzling case to solve – over and above the fascinating case of Hawthorne himself.

“Tony” can’t resist getting dragged along in Hawthorne’s wake yet again. No matter how much he knows that he should.

Escape Rating A-: This was a rare case where I stayed with the audiobook all the way through. Not that I wasn’t impatient to see how it ended, but the audiobook was just SO GOOD. The narrator, Rory Kinnear, does an excellent job of voicing all the characters and differentiating them all. Each character in the story was very distinct in accent, in tone and in their manner of speaking.

And it’s also short enough of an audiobook that I didn’t have to play too much Solitaire to finish it in less than a week. (Which reminds me, the book is 384 pages, but there is a lot of white space and relatively big printing on those pages. It’s a breeze to read or listen to.)

The series in general, and this entry in particular, feels like a combination of whodunnit, whydunnit and Sherlock Holmes homage. The references to this being a Holmes homage, with Hawthorne as Holmes and Horowitz as Watson, are particularly explicit in this story, to the point where “Tony” (he hates it when Hawthorne calls him that and it differentiates the character IN the book from the writer OF the book – at least a little) tells Hawthorne just how much he dislikes being his Watson. Particularly since, just like the popular image of Watson, he never seems to figure out whodunnit ahead of his Sherlock.

Hawthorne is an extremely annoying character, and “Tony” is generally pretty annoyed at him. Hawthorne is always a disruption to his life – and it seems like working with Hawthorne puts “Tony” in danger of losing either his career or his life at every turn.

One of the mind-twisty parts of this story, in addition to the murder itself, is just how much of a nebbish the character of “Tony” turns out to be. There’s always a bit of a disjunct in my mind, as my mental image of the author bears a sharp resemblance to Michael Kitchen’s portrayal of Christopher Foyle in Foyle’s War. Not that I have any personal knowledge, but Foyle’s War was my first serious exposure to the author and I recognize I’ve conflated him with the character he created. It’s not about how either of them looks, it’s that Foyle is both thoughtful and decisive, and it’s jarring to see “Tony” as a bit of a milquetoast. Hawthorne pushes him around – a LOT – and so do the police detectives assigned to the case.

But that case is intricate and absorbing and convoluted. The resolution is completely unexpected, not just by “Tony” but by the reader as well. At the same time, it thoroughly follows the conventions of the mystery genre, so that once you do know whodunnit, you can see that all the clues have been there all along – just like they are supposed to be – and that the solution was obvious IF you made the correct connections. As Hawthorne certainly did.

In the end, all is made tragically clear. But “Tony” is tired of playing Hawthorne’s bumbling Watson. He wants out. He wants to go back to Foyle’s War and his next “real” Sherlock Holmes book, Moriarty.

But we just know that he’ll be swept into Hawthorne’s orbit yet again, as soon as there’s another case worth writing about. And we’ll be sucked back in right along with him!

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony HorowitzThe Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery
Series: Hawthorne #1
Pages: 400
Published by Harper on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

She planned her own funeral--but did she arrange her murder?

A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.

What do they have in common?

Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz's page-turning new thriller.

My Review:

This is a weird book. That’s not to say that it wasn’t good and that I didn’t enjoy it – because it is and I did. But it was not what I expected.

Not exactly what I expected, anyway. I was, after all, expecting a murder mystery. What I was not expecting was for the book the break the fourth wall as much as it does, or for the author to be a fictional character in his own book.

I’ll confess that I began looking up some of the people in the story, to see if they really were real. The degree to which the author inserts himself and his own history makes everyone in the story seem like they must be equally real.

Or if not real, then at least recognizable stand-ins for some true-life counterpart. But they are not. At least I don’t think they are. Or if they were I couldn’t figure out who they were standing in for.

What adds to the verisimilitude is the way that author Anthony Horowitz seems to include so many easily verifiable details of his own work, if not his own life. He is the creator of two of my favorite TV series, Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders. He is also the author of two excellent Sherlock Holmes pastiches, The House of Silk and Moriarty.

But in The Word is Murder he seems to find himself playing Watson, both as a sidekick and as a recorder of events, to an even more misanthropic Holmes than the original.

Daniel Hawthorne is not a likeable protagonist. As a detective he is every bit as brilliant as the ‘Great Detective’ he is so obviously modeled after, while at the same time so focused on whatever case he is following that he does not care who he pisses off or how much he ignores all of the social niceties that keep the wheels of society grinding.

He’s a man with zero friends, lots of enemies, and a nose for figuring out “whodunit”.

And even though Horowitz-the-author seems to draw the man in all of his misanthropic ‘glory’, we are drawn into the cases every bit as much as the author seems to be, and we understand why he follows along – because we are every bit as compelled as he is.

Escape Rating A-: I picked this up because I loved both The House of Silk and Magpie Murders, although I admit that I enjoyed the historical portions of Magpie Murders more than the contemporary framing story.

I didn’t know what to expect with The Word is Murder, just that I was interested enough to give it a try. I had not read any of the reviews beforehand, so I was at a bit of a loss when the author himself appeared as a character in the book.

I knew the book was supposed to be fiction, but so many well-known details of the author’s career were introduced into the narrative that I’ll admit I started to wonder.

While the way that this book is written is meta (actually very, very meta), the story itself is a classic. A woman goes to a funeral home to plan her entire funeral. When she is murdered a few short hours later, it seems obvious that the long arm of coincidence just doesn’t stretch that long.

The police want the murder to be a burglary gone wrong. That’s a simple crime with a simple solution. But ex-cop Daniel Hawthorne is certain that it’s not that easy. He knows that when the Met calls him in as a consultant, it’s because someone at the top is certain it isn’t that easy – even if they can’t articulate exactly why.

Figuring it out is Hawthorne’s job. Annoying all of the investigating officers involved in the case seems to be part of the fun of it – at least for him. Dragging his narrator out of an important meeting with OMG Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson shows just how little Hawthorne can be bothered with anything outside his laser focus on the case.

In the end, the case is both simple and complex. The reasons for the murder are classic. The misdirection is epic. And even though I figured out who didn’t do it before the narrator, the reveal of just who did was as much of a surprise to me as it was to him. Just like the narrator, I was too caught up in the story to follow the clues to their final destination.

There’s going to be a sequel. I’m more than curious enough to see what Daniel Hawthorne investigates next – as long as Anthony Horowitz is at his side.

Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Review: Magpie Murders by Anthony HorowitzMagpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Series: Susan Ryeland #1
Pages: 496
Published by Harper on June 6th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When editor Susan Ryeland is given the manuscript of Alan Conway’s latest novel, she has no reason to think it will be much different from any of his others. After working with the bestselling crime writer for years, she’s intimately familiar with his detective, Atticus Pünd, who solves mysteries disturbing sleepy English villages. An homage to queens of classic British crime such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, Alan’s traditional formula has proved hugely successful. So successful that Susan must continue to put up with his troubling behavior if she wants to keep her job.

Conway’s latest tale has Atticus Pünd investigating a murder at Pye Hall, a local manor house. Yes, there are dead bodies and a host of intriguing suspects, but the more Susan reads, the more she’s convinced that there is another story hidden in the pages of the manuscript: one of real-life jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition, and murder.

My Review:

I really wish that the Atticus Pünd series existed, because the one we got in Magpie Murders was absolutely marvelous. I’d dearly love to read the rest of the series.

What we have, however, is the final book in the series, encased within a framing story about the death of the fictitious author of this fictitious book, and the many, many ways in which art seems to be imitating life – or vice versa.

The story begins with its frame. Susan Ryeland, editor at a small but prestigious publishing house, settles in for the weekend to read the latest manuscript by her least favorite and most favorite author. Susan loves Alan Conway’s work, but the man himself is far from lovable.

As Susan settles in to read, we do too. We read Magpie Murders by Alan Conway right along with her. And it is a marvelous take on the Golden Age of mystery, reading as though it should sit on the shelf beside Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Margery Allingham.

The detective, the perpetual outsider, comes to a small English village to investigate what turn out to be a series of murders. It’s an absorbing case, and the readers, along with Susan herself, are sucked right into the mid-1950s, the mind of the detective and the murderous goings on of this otherwise unremarkable little place.

Until the story ends abruptly, and we, as well as Susan, are left wondering “who done it?”. The last chapter of Magpie Murders is missing. And its author has just been found dead, an apparent suicide.

So Susan begins by hunting for that missing chapter, and finds herself hunting for the truth about Alan Conway’s life, and about his death. By the time those missing pages are found, Susan has uncovered much more than she, or anyone else, could have bargained for.

After all the times when she has blurbed that “reading such-and-such’s latest book changed her life”, just this once, it’s all too true.

Escape Rating B+: Magpie Murders is really two books in one. There’s a classic historical mystery sandwiched within the pages of a contemporary mystery thriller. And for this reader, the historical mystery wins out.

I absolutely adored Magpie Murders by Alan Conway. It was both a wonderful homage to the mysteries of the Golden Age, and a terrific case itself. Atticus Pünd would make a wonderful addition to the ranks of series detectives, right up there with Poirot, Marple, Wimsey and the rest. In its post-WWII time period, it takes the reader back to a simpler but no less deadly time, and its play on the locked room/locked house mystery keeps the reader guessing.

It gave me a tremendous yen to pick up a “real” historical mystery at the first opportunity. It reminded me how much I love the genre, and gave me a hankering to return. Or just to re-watch Poirot.

The abrupt ending to Conway’s novel jarred me almost as much as it did Susan Ryeland. I felt cheated. I wanted to know who the killer was every bit as much as she did. But I had a difficult time getting into the framing story.

In fact, I started the book once, couldn’t get into it, and then picked it up on audio. Listening to it got me over the hump, to the point where I was so captivated by Pünd’s story that I changed the audio back for the book, so that I could find out whodunnit that much more quickly – only to be disappointed when Susan discovers that the final chapter is missing.

Susan’s own quest turned out to be fascinating as well, but for some reason I didn’t find her as sympathetic or interesting a character to follow as the even more fictional Pünd.

The problem is that Pünd, while a bit distant in the traditional detectival mold, is a sympathetic character and seems to be a generally nice man. We want him to succeed. Alan Conway, on the other hand, will not be missed by anyone, except possibly his publishers.

Conway’s series is the marquee title for small but prestigious Cloverleaf Books. It’s their one big moneymaker, and it tides them over an awful lot of less successful ventures. Conway, or rather Atticus Pünd, pays the bills and keeps the lights on. But no one likes Conway. There are certainly people who benefit from his death in the direct, traditional way, but there are even more who are just happy at his absence from this earth, beginning with his ex-wife and ending with Susan’s lover. While there are plenty of people who will miss Atticus Pünd, no one will miss his author.

Susan finds herself with plenty of motives, too many suspects, and a police investigation that is all too happy to consider it suicide and close the case. There’s plenty of evidence to support that theory, and damn little to support anything else.

Until Susan starts digging, and nearly digs her own grave. In the end, no one is certain that good triumphed and evil got its just desserts. Not even Susan. And that’s what makes the contemporary thriller less satisfying than the historical mystery it contains. Mystery, as a great writer once said, is the romance of justice. Good is supposed to triumph, evil is supposed to get those just desserts. When that formula is subverted, as it is in the contemporary frame for Magpie Murders, it feels wrong, at least for this reader. While there may be a metaphor in there about the world being more complicated than it used to be, or that the real world isn’t half so neat and tidy as fiction, the framing story is also fiction. I want my neat and tidy ending, and I’m disappointed that it wasn’t there.

But we do finally get to read Atticus Pünd’s last chapter. And that was well worth waiting for.