The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

I loved The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz’s first book to feature the detective Daniel Hawthorne, so when I heard that there was going to be a second book I couldn’t wait to read it. I didn’t have to wait too long, as this one has been published only a year after the first, and I’m pleased to report that I enjoyed it just as much, if not more.

When high profile divorce lawyer Richard Pryce is found bludgeoned to death with an expensive bottle of wine, the culprit seems quite obvious. Just days earlier, Pryce had been threatened by a client’s ex-wife who poured a glass of wine over his head in a restaurant. Surely that can’t be a coincidence? But Pryce has plenty of other enemies, whose identities come to light as investigations continue. Could one of them have wanted him dead? And what is the significance of the numbers painted on the wall near Pryce’s body? As this is clearly a more complex case than it seemed at first, ex-police detective Hawthorne is asked to assist with solving the crime.

Having worked with Hawthorne on his previous mystery in The Word is Murder, author Anthony Horowitz reluctantly agrees to team up with him again and document the progress of the investigations in a second book, The Sentence is Death. Hawthorne is supposed to be the hero of the book, but this time Anthony decides to do some detecting of his own in the hope of reaching the solution first. Can he solve the mystery before Hawthorne does?

If this sounds confusing, I should explain that, as in the previous novel, Horowitz is a character in his own book. The Anthony in the story is clearly based on the author himself – he frequently discusses his career as a novelist and screenwriter and refers to his wife and his publisher by name – yet he interacts with fictional characters, takes part in fictional storylines and struggles to solve the mystery the real Horowitz has created. I think it’s a clever concept and great fun, though not everyone will agree – it’s probably something you’ll either love or you won’t.

It’s not really necessary to have read the first book before starting this one as the mysteries are entirely separate. Like the first, this is a strong, well-constructed mystery with plenty of clues but plenty of red herrings as well. I didn’t manage to solve it (I confess that I allowed myself to be distracted and misled by every one of those red herrings) but I was happy to be kept in suspense and wait for Hawthorne – or Anthony, of course, if he got there first – to explain it all for me.

However, I would still recommend reading both books in order if you can, so that you can watch the progression of Anthony’s relationship with Hawthorne. Hawthorne is no more pleasant or likeable now than he was when we first met him in The Word is Murder, and he is still every bit as much of an enigma, but we do pick up a few new bits of information about him here, with some glimpses of his home and his life away from his detection work. I think he’s a great character, for all of his flaws, and I love his partnership with the fictional Anthony.

When I read the first novel I found the details of Anthony’s publishing and television career a slight distraction from the main plot, but in this book they seemed to form a more intrinsic part of the story and I liked that aspect much more. Horowitz seems to be having fun at the expense of his fictional self, as Anthony stumbles from one disaster to another; I particularly enjoyed the opening scenes on the set of Foyle’s War and a later scene involving the theft of a book – and I’m curious to know whether the literary fiction author Akira Anno was based on a real person (although if she was, I doubt her true identity will ever be revealed).

I loved this book – and the good news for Horowitz and Hawthorne fans is that there’s going to be a third.

Thanks to Century for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

One bright spring morning Diana Cowper walks into a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral. Six hours later she is dead, strangled in her own home. It can’t be a coincidence…can it? Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne – who is technically no longer with the police but still assists with particularly challenging cases – is called in to investigate. This is to be an investigation with a difference, however, because Hawthorne has enlisted the services of author Anthony Horowitz to write a book about the case.

Horowitz has never written a true-crime book before and admits to being much more comfortable when writing fiction such as his Sherlock Holmes sequel The House of Silk or the Alex Rider young adult series. It is with some reservations, then, that he agrees to write Hawthorne’s story, but as he accompanies the detective while he interviews suspects and searches for clues, Horowitz is drawn into the investigation despite himself.

The two have very different visions for their book; Horowitz believes in using artistic licence to tell a story that people will want to read, but Hawthorne is adamant that he should report only the facts, leaving nothing out that could be of significance. The author also tries in vain to get to know the detective, to shape him into a character who will stand alongside Holmes and Poirot, but the other man remains frustratingly enigmatic:

“Well, if I was going to write about you, you’d have to tell me. I’d have to know where you live, whether you’re married or not, what you have for breakfast, what you do on your day off. That’s why people read murder stories.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Yes!”

He shook his head. “I don’t agree. The word is murder. That’s what matters.”

I started to read The Word is Murder with very high hopes, having loved Horowitz’s previous novel, Magpie Murders (one of my favourite books of last year). I wasn’t disappointed; this is another great book! In fact, like Magpie Murders – but in a different way – it is almost two books in one. We have the story of Horowitz and his relationship with Hawthorne and then we have the murder investigation itself. I’m aware that I’ve said very little so far about the latter – and I’m not going to say much more, other than that it is a very clever, tightly plotted mystery with plenty of clues, suspects and red herrings. Thanks to Hawthorne’s insistence on everything being written down, most of the clues are there from the beginning and the rest are at least revealed early enough for us to guess the solution before Horowitz does. I have to admit, though, that I was slow to put them together and didn’t come close to solving the mystery!

I should probably make it clear that Diana Cowper is a fictional character – she wasn’t really murdered six hours after arranging her own funeral and Hawthorne, who is also fictional, wasn’t really brought in to investigate. Anthony Horowitz, however, is obviously a real person and so The Word is Murder is a curious blend of fiction and non-fiction. He is not the first author to use themselves as a character in their own novel, but I’m not sure if anyone else has done it in quite the same way!

Although the passages in which Horowitz describes his various writing projects, his appearances at book festivals and his views on literary agents are a bit of a distraction from the central plot at times, his main role in the story is as a sort of Watson-style sidekick, and this aspect of the novel works very well. As for Hawthorne, he has quite an unpleasant personality, being humourless, secretive, pedantic, and – to Horowitz’s disgust – homophobic, but I found him a fascinating character, precisely because he is so unattractive. They are an unlikely pairing but there is plenty of potential here for more Hawthorne/Horowitz mysteries, I think – I would certainly be happy to read them, anyway!

Thanks to the publisher, Random House, for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

My Commonplace Book: October 2016

A summary of last month’s reading, in words and pictures.

commonplace book
Definition:
noun
a notebook in which quotations, poems, remarks, etc, that catch the owner’s attention are entered

Collins English Dictionary

~

“Most people only want a quiet life,” I said. “Even those of us who were once radicals.” I smiled wryly at Roger. He nodded in acknowledgement.

“Fanatics on both sides,” old Ryprose said gloomily. “And all we poor ordinary folk in the middle. Sometimes I fear they will bring death to us all.”

Revelation by CJ Sansom (2008)

~

edward-lear-book-of-nonsense

“Books,” the driver resumed. “I’m a great reader. I am. Not poetry. Love stories and murder books. I joined one o’ them” – he heaved a long sigh; with vast effort his mind laboured and brought forth – “circulatin’ libraries”. He brooded darkly. “But I’m sick of it now. I’ve read all that’s any good in it.”

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin (1946)

~

“We shall wait upon tomorrow,” he said.

“But – what if tomorrow is worse than today?”

“Then we shall wait upon the day after tomorrow.”

“And so forth?” I asked.

“And so forth,” Dogger said.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (2014)

~

In his masterwork, The Landscape of Criminal Investigation, Atticus Pünd had written: ‘One can think of the truth as eine vertiefung – a sort of deep valley which may not be visible from a distance but which will come upon you quite suddenly. There are many ways to arrive there. A line of questioning that turns out to be irrelevant still has the power to bring you nearer to your goal. There are no wasted journeys in the detection of a crime.’

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (2016)

~

“But seriously Poirot, what a hobby! Compare that to -” his voice sank to an appreciative purr – “an easy chair in front of a wood fire in a long low room lined with books – must be a long room – not a square one. Books all round one. A glass of port – and a book open in your hand. Time rolls back as you read.”

The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie (1947)

~

robert-cecil

“Watch and wait,” says Burghley. “You have a valuable nugget of information, but that is all it is at this stage. Watch the lady; watch and wait.” Cecil is reminded of being fleeced by a card trickster once, who had said the very same thing – watch the lady. He lost all the gold buttons from his doublet. That was a lesson learned.

Watch the Lady by Elizabeth Fremantle (2015)

~

Sometimes I would like to cry. I close my eyes. Why weren’t we designed so that we can close our ears as well? (Perhaps because we would never open them.) Is there some way that I could accelerate my evolution and develop earlids?

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson (1995)

~

Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What color is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies?

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury (1962)

~

lantern-clock

And as the seconds and minutes moved on, I pondered Man’s efforts at the representation or ‘capture’ of Time, and I thought how, for Clockmakers like Hollers, the very Commodity with which they were trying to work was a heartless and capricious Enemy, who stole from them all the while and never rested.

Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain (2013)

~

A Gothic gate, richly ornamented with fret-work, which opened into the main body of the edifice, but which was now obstructed with brush-wood, remained entire. Above the vast and magnificent portal of this gate arose a window of the same order, whose pointed arches still exhibited fragments of stained glass, once the pride of monkish devotion. La Motte, thinking it possible it might yet shelter some human being, advanced to the gate and lifted a mossy knocker. The hollow sounds rung through the emptiness of the place. After waiting a few minutes, he forced back the gate, which was heavy with iron work, and creaked harshly on its hinges…

The Romance of the Forest by Ann Radcliffe (1791)

~

I could not possibly go home, I reflected, and add as a serious contribution to the study of women and fiction that women have less hair on their bodies than men, or that the age of puberty among the South Sea Islanders is nine — or is it ninety? — even the handwriting had become in its distraction indecipherable. It was disgraceful to have nothing more weighty or respectable to show after a whole morning’s work.

A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)

~

sappho

Not everyone can write as legibly as I; Father made me spend hours at my tablets, saying that my poems must be written down by me as I myself have composed them, so they will not be distorted in later years by other singers. “For you have great gifts from the Muses,” he said. “I would not have them lost to the world that comes after.”

Burning Sappho by Martha Rofheart (1974)

~

“I ain’t in the habit of picking other folks’ roses without leave,” said she.

As Rebecca spoke she started violently and lost sight of her resentment, for something singular happened. Suddenly the rosebush was agitated violently as if by a gust of wind, yet it was a remarkably still day. Not a leaf of the hydrangea standing on the terrace close to the rose trembled.

“What on earth -” began Rebecca; then she stopped with a gasp at the sight of the other woman’s face. Although a face, it gave somehow the impression of a desperately clutched hand of secrecy.

Small and Spooky edited by M.R. Nelson (2016)

~

Time was not something then we thought of as an item that possessed an ending, but something that would go on forever, all rested and stopped in that moment. Hard to say what I mean by that. You look back at all the endless years when you never had that thought. I am doing that now as I write these words in Tennessee. I am thinking of the days without end of my life.

Days Without End by Sebastian Barry (2016)

~

“You don’t think there’ll really be a war, do you?” she asked anxiously, as her work was for the maimed wrecks of men left by the 1914-18 war – and I could understand her horror of another. But when I looked at the Green Cat I was not sure and I did not reply.

A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell (1959)

~

Favourite books read in October: Revelation, The Moving Toyshop and Magpie Murders

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

magpie-murders It’s been nearly a week since I finished reading the wonderful Magpie Murders, but it wasn’t until this morning that I felt able to start writing my review. I loved it – it’s one of my books of the year, without a doubt – but I’ve spent a lot of time staring at a blank screen wondering what I could possibly say about it that would explain exactly why I loved it without spoiling things for future readers in the process. The reason I’ve found this such a difficult book to write about is because it’s a mystery novel which contains not just one mystery, but two – and part of the fun was in not only trying to solve each one, but also in discovering the connections between the two.

The novel opens with Susan Ryeland, editor for Cloverleaf Books, a small, independent publisher, settling down to read the latest manuscript from bestselling author, Alan Conway. Conway has achieved enormous success with his series of Golden-Age-style crime novels featuring the detective Atticus Pünd. Susan has never liked the author but she loves his books and has high hopes for his new one, Magpie Murders.

We are then given the privilege of reading the manuscript of Magpie Murders in – almost, but not quite – its entirety. This story-within-a-story is set in the 1950s in the little English village of Saxby-on-Avon. One of the villagers, Mary Blakiston, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in Pye Hall, where she worked as a cleaner, and Pünd has been called in to investigate. The story has everything you would expect from a classic whodunnit – plenty of red herrings, some intriguing clues, a long list of suspects all with secrets to hide, an eccentric detective and his hapless sidekick. It’s a real treat for anyone who enjoys reading Agatha Christie!

Eventually the manuscript comes to an end and we return to the present day, where a second mystery, every bit as perplexing as the one we have just been reading, is beginning to take shape. As Susan tries to draw parallels between the fictional world of Saxby-on-Avon and the private life of its creator, Alan Conway, she finds that Magpie Murders really is one of those life-changing books which, until now, she thought were just a cliché.

This is one of the most compelling mystery novels I’ve read for a long time. Both the fictional story and the ‘real life’ one had me completely gripped, trying to figure out which clues were important and which were designed to mislead us, who had a valid alibi and who didn’t…needless to say, I failed to solve either of the mysteries and fell into most of the traps that had been set for the reader. I didn’t mind, though – I was happy just to watch everything unfold as more information came to light and secrets were revealed.

There were so many other things to enjoy…the insights into the publishing world, the little puzzles and word games woven into the plot, even the chapter titles based on the One for Sorrow nursery rhyme. My only disappointment is that the rest of the Atticus Pünd mysteries referred to in the novel don’t really exist. I loved Alan Conway’s Magpie Murders so much I’m now desperate to read Atticus Pünd Investigates, Atticus Pünd Takes the Case, Gin & Cyanide, and all of the others – apart from maybe Night Comes Calling, but I’m not telling you why!

This is the first of Anthony Horowitz’s adult novels I’ve read, although I do remember, as a child, reading one of his Diamond Brothers detective stories. His recent Sherlock Holmes novels The House of Silk and Moriarty didn’t appeal, but now I’m wondering if I should give them a try. Has anyone read them? And have I convinced you to read Magpie Murders? I hope so!

Thanks to Orion for providing a review copy via NetGalley