This is the third book in the Hawthorne and Horowitz mystery series; I enjoyed the first two, The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death, and when I saw that the fourth book, The Twist of a Knife, is coming out in August it reminded me that I needed to catch up with this one.
If you’re not familiar with this series, I should start by telling you that it’s based around an unusual concept: the author Anthony Horowitz himself is one of the main characters, enlisted by the detective Daniel Hawthorne to write books about the cases he investigates. In this third novel, Horowitz and Hawthorne have been invited to attend a literary festival on the island of Alderney, one of the Channel Islands. There has never been a murder on Alderney before, as the islanders are quick to assure them, but this all changes soon after their arrival when an influential local businessman is found dead under suspicious circumstances.
There are plenty of suspects, including most of our duo’s fellow festival guests: a celebrity chef with a set of annoying catchphrases, a children’s author whose work has just been bought by Disney, a blind psychic who claims to hear voices from the spirit world and a French performance poet who is not all she seems. To complicate things further, the dead man has been at the centre of a controversial new scheme to run an electric power line across the island, something which has received a lot of opposition from the residents of Alderney. It seems that Hawthorne has found his next mystery to solve – and Horowitz has found his next novel.
I didn’t love this book as much as the first two in the series, maybe because I found the characters a particularly unpleasant bunch, but it’s still a clever, entertaining and absorbing murder mystery of the ‘locked room’ type – in which the whole island could be seen as the locked room, as once the murder takes place none of the suspects are allowed to leave. I think this is almost certainly the first and only book I’ve read with Alderney as a setting; I’m sure there must be others, but I’ve never come across them. The festival Anthony and Hawthorne attend is fictional, but in real life the island is establishing a literary reputation for itself, with an annual historical fiction festival and a recent Gothic literature event.
When writing yourself into a novel, it must be tempting to give yourself the starring role, but in this book that honour definitely goes to Daniel Hawthorne. With a lot of self-deprecating humour, Horowitz casts himself as the Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes, always one step behind while Hawthorne picks up on clues that nobody else has even noticed. This creates a lot of tension between them (particularly when Anthony discovers that the festival-goers have no interest in his books – they only want to hear Hawthorne talk about the crimes he has solved). Their relationship has been a difficult one since the first novel, partly because Hawthorne is so secretive and shows Horowitz only the worst side of his personality. We are slowly learning a little bit more about him, but there’s still a lot we – and Anthony – don’t know.
I’m looking forward to reading The Twist of a Knife very soon…but what I’m really hoping for is a third book in the Magpie Murders series!