Review: A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

As far as I’m concerned, there is no better writer of murder mysteries than Anthony Horowitz right now. He is in the form of his life, and the third novel in his Daniel Hawthorne series further ratifies that belief. “A Line to Kill” is an exceptional whodunnit, meticulously plotted, laden with red herrings and disguises, and populated with an eclectic cast of suspects and victims. It’s everything the armchair sleuth could possibly want. 

Once again narrated by a fictionalised Horowitz (who writes about Hawthorne’s murder investigations), “A Line to Kill” is set at a literary festival on the English island of Alderney. Horowitz and Hawthorne are just one of the festival’s highlights: other guests include a blind psychic, a French performance poet, a war historian, and a chef who specialises in (exceedingly) unhealthy meals. 

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Anthony Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders”

The genius of Anthony Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders,” two books I read back-to-back recently for book club, is that they’re ostensibly complex — murder mysteries within murder mysteries, with overt and obscure connections — but effortlessly transliterated. Both novels provide intricately-plotted parallel stories that twist around each other like the double helix of a DNA strand: Susan Ryeland, literary editor extraordinaire, stars in the “real life” narrative; and Alan Conway’s fictional creation, the German-born private investigator Atticus Pund, is the other lead. The books involve Susan unlocking the parallels between Pund’s fictional investigations and a real world mystery.

“Magpie Murders” and “Moonflower Murders” are love letters to the golden age of crime fiction, the Agatha Christie era, when the number of red-herrings matched the page-count, and everyone was a suspect, if not of the actual murder, then of some other act of maleficence. The cases themselves are relatively simple, albeit populated by a dense cast: the layering of one mystery atop another adds the veneer complexity.

“Moonflower Murders” is a direct sequel to “Magpie Murders,” with Susan retired from publishing and running a small hotel on a Greek island with her boyfriend. But she misses her literary life in London, and jumps at the opportunity to assist the Trehernes. Years ago, a murder took place the same day as their daughter’s wedding, in their family-owned hotel, when author Alan Grant was a guest.  She is now missing. Before she disappeared she believed she unlocked clues in the novel “Atticus Pund Takes the Case” that suggest the wrong man was arrested. The Trehernes want Susan to spot what their daughter did in Grant’s novel, which will hopefully lead to her discovery.

Though the connection to another Atticus Pund novel is rather more tenuous and coincidental than in “Magpie Murders,” when the “real life” murder was in fact Alan Grant’s, “Moonflower Murders” is a brick-sized, compulsively readable page-turner. Horowitz is quite brilliant at playing with the tropes of the genre — not just here, but in “The Word is Murder” and “The Sentence is Death” — and revitalising them. He’s on that rarefied “Must Read” list.

Review: The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

Sentence is DeathI was effusive in my praise for Anthony Horowitz’s 2017 novel The Word is Murder, calling it “one of the best and most compulsively readable mysteries of the year.” It’s a line I could repeat here for the second book in the Daniel Hawthorne series, The Sentence is Death. Quite frankly, there is no more bewitching stylist in crime fiction than Horowitz, who has delivered another slick, taut, inventive, and utterly engrossing whodunit. There’s no doubt about it: we’re in the presence of one of the masters of crime fiction.

The Word is Murder opened with a wealthy woman  found strangled in her home six hours after she has arranged her own funeral, a beguiling premise that demanded attention. The Sentence is Death presents another enigma: celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce is discovered bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with an insanely expensive bottle of wine, which makes little sense, given Pryce was a teetotaller. Even more bizarre is the three-digit number painted on the wall beside the corpse. For Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his compatriot (and the tale’s narrator) Anthony Horowitz (newcomers to the series, don’t be alarmed by this meta element — just trust me, it works) there are almost too many suspects. Pryce, by the very nature of his profession, and as a consequence of his profession, was a man with many enemies. So who delivered the fatal blow  and why?

The Sentence is Death is the kind of book you’ll cancel a night out for and stay up until dawn reading. Horowitz has a gift for the blindside; nudging readers towards one conclusion before smartly pulling the rug out from underneath them, reformatting clues on the fly, presenting them from a different angle. Horowitz is Holmes, and the reader is a very obliging Watson. Even as you hurriedly turn the pages to find out what happens next, a part of you will be wanting to slow down; to savour and admire the seamless plotting mechanics. You won’t want it to end.

ISBN: 9781780897080
Format: Paperback / softback
Pages: 384
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 29-Oct-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz

9781911214779Like Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz’s first 007 novel, Forever and a Day has all the essential James Bond ingredients — the audacious plot, the maniacal villain(s), the beautiful woman, the rip-roaring pace — but lacks that secret sauce, the Fleming Factor that has made Bond the sacrosanct icon of the spy genre. But even Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator, couldn’t always harness this; for every brilliant Bond novel there was a dud; for every Casino Royale, Moonraker, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger there was a You Only Live Twice, The Spy Who Loved Me and Diamonds are Forever. Rest assured: both Trigger Mortis and Forever and a Day are closer to the top tier of Bond novels than they are the bottom, and are top-notch, read-in-one-sitting thrillers.

Set before the events of Casino Royale, James Bond — newly-promoted to the 00 section —  is assigned to investigate the murder of his predecessor whose body was found bullet-ridden in the waters of Marseille. Fleming never delved too far into Bond’s backstory; snippets were revealed throughout the course of the series, but it never much mattered how and why Bond acquired his license to kill. Horowitz seems to recognise this too; we don’t spend too much time with an ‘unlicensed’ Bond, and regardless of his ‘inexperience’ in the 00 section of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, he’s still a formidable operative; just not yet hardened into the bruised, battered, and eventually broken man readers are confronted with in later novels.

Horowitz has concocted an excellent, truly Fleming-esque villain in Scipio, a tremendously overweight Corsican drug-dealer. Bond’s first encounter with the man is evocative of Fleming’s greatest standoff’s, and the subsequent torture sequence is played brilliantly, and is truly chilling. Sure, he and his cohort’s dastardly sinister scheme is preposterous, but when it comes to Bond, we expect the outlandish. One character Fleming mightn’t have had the capacity to create is Sixtine, who is assuredly a post-#MeToo partner for 007; alluring for sure, but the kind of kick-arse, strong, independent woman Bond’s creator populated his books with alarmingly infrequency. Of course, they eventually sleep together —  hardly a spoiler — but not before Sixtine makes it absolutely clear their union is on her terms, not his. Still, it might be time to remove this trope from Bond novels; he’ll be no less a cool character for not bedding someone in future adventures; we’re here for the thrills and spills, not the bluntly-rendered sex. Horowitz has started the process of tacitly cleaning-up the seamier aspects of 007’s character, but there’s still more to be done. 

Forever and a Day is, if anything, superior to some of Ian Fleming’s originals. Horowitz’s affection for Bond and for all the tropes that surround him is abundantly clear, and the book works perfectly as an in-continuity pastiche, which I believe was the author’s objective. We’re not modernising Bond, as Raymond Benson, John Gardner and Jeffrey Deaver attempted; Horowitz is merely borrowing Fleming’s character, and propelling him on another thrilling adventure. Which it is. There is ultimately only one test for a book such as this: do you want to keep turning the pages? Answer: heck, yes. And not because it’s James Bond, but because the pace propulsive and there are enough twists and surprises to keep you gripped.

ISBN: 9781911214786
ISBN-10: 1911214780
Format: Paperback
Pages: 336
Imprint: Jonathan Cape Ltd
Publisher: Random House Children’s Publishers UK
Publish Date: 18-Jun-2018
Country of Publication: United Kingdom


Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Word is Murder.jpgWith its unorthodox protagonist, clever plotting, brilliantly imperfect characters, and escalating sense of urgency and intrigue, The Word is Murder is an instant crime classic that will keep you reading as fast as you can.

Like the best mysteries, the plot of The Word is Murder can be summed up simply: a wealthy woman is found strangled in her home six hours after she has arranged her own funeral. Who killed her? And why? Enter: former police detective turned private investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his reluctant sidekick, Anthony Horowitz. Yes: as in, The Author Of The Very Same Book You Are Reading, Anthony Horowitz; who penned the bestselling Alex Rider series, the last official James Bond novel, Trigger Mortis, two Sherlock Holmes mysteries, not to mention his work in television; and as The Word is Murder opens, is currently in the middle of re-writes for the second Tintin film, and doesn’t feel particularly compelled by Hawthorn’s officer to trail the unconventional detective as he works the case, but is gradually lured by the enigma of Diana Cowper’s murder.

The novel is told entirely from Horowitz’s perspective. He seamlessly blends the real world with his fiction, constantly throwing in references to his everyday — his ongoing writing projects, dealing with agents and publishers, looming deadlines — that enhance rather than hinder the narrative, adding a layer of authenticity to the book’s great tapestry. Horowitz is the master at pulling away the surface of his characters to expose their deeper—and often ugly—layers, and isn’t afraid to put himself under the same microscope. The clashing of personalities — especially between himself and Hawthorn — is authoritatively evoked, and readers will find themselves turning pages not just to uncover the truth behind Mrs. Cowper’s murder, but to spend more time inside Horowitz’s head to enable another glimse of the enigmatic detective.

The mystery itself is  meticulously crafted, unfolding with increasing velocity as the dots start to connect for both the protagonist and the reader, the clues, of which there are many, laid bare. Even better, Horowitz produces a couple of bombshell twists, saving one revelation for the final pages, which proves bittersweet: by the time readers reach this stage of The Word is Murder, they’ll be distraught knowing the end is so very near, sated perhaps by the knowledge that this is the first book in an intended series.

The Word is Murder is one of the best and most compulsively readable mysteries of the year. Hugely satisfying on every level.

ISBN: 9781780896854
Format: Paperback
(234mm x 153mm x mm)
Pages: 400
Imprint: Century
Publisher: Cornerstone
Publish Date: 24-Aug-2017
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Review: Trigger Mortis by Anthony Horowitz

Trigger MortisWith Trigger Mortis, Anthony Horowitz has joined the prestigious league of writers who’ve succeeded Ian Fleming in writing about the exploits of British Secret Service agent 007. Like those before him, Horowitz has crafted a fine thriller that encapsulates the essential James Bond ingredients – the audacious plot, the rip-roaring pace, the maniacal villain(s), the exquisite women, the fast cars – but it lacks that special something, that secret Fleming Factor, which catapulted his secret agent into the stratosphere and made him one of the eminent characters of spy fiction. Alas, perhaps that Fleming Factor dissipated with the author’s untimely passing in 1964, lost to the ether, its precise reclamation impossible.Trigger Mortis, at least, has the right meat on its bones; it just hasn’t been cooked quite the same way. Still, it’s a tasty treat.

The 007 novels written by Kingsley Amis (writing as Robert Markham), John Gardner, Raymond Benson, Sebastian Faulks, William Boyd and Jeffery Deaver were all set, continuity-wise, in the years after Fleming’s death. Benson and Deaver in particular brought Bond into the present day, contemporising his world, for better or worse; my view has always been that Bond is a man of his time, and attempts to modernise him have served only to strip away his appeal. Trigger Mortis, however, is set between Fleming novels; its events occur mere weeks after Bond foiled Operation Grand Slam in Goldfinger, and features many references to past cases and characters. Fleming never shied away from mentioning Bond’s adventures of yesteryear in his novels, and it’s nice seeing Horowitz do the same. I was stunned one character in particular from Goldfingermakes more than just a cameo.

SMERSH is once again Bond’s opposition, and in this instance its face is Jason Sin, a survivor of the Korean War, whose nefarious scheme aims to decimate the United States’ space program and ensure supremacy for the Russians. Before that, there’s the small matter of SMERSH’s insane plot to eliminate a champion British Grand Prix racer, which sees Bond placed behind the wheel of a motorcar the likes of which he’s never experienced. And meanwhile, leftover forces from a previous case have targeted Bond for termination. Thankfully, Bond isn’t alone in his quest, and it’s great to see “Bond girl” Jeopardy Lane playing a role beyond femme fatale or hostage.

Fleming’s knack for nailing the details of place and time made his thrillers resonate. They are time capsules of the mid–fifties early sixties, and though Horowitz makes a grand effort to ground Trigger Mortis in 1957, it shows that the author himself didn’t live through these times; the details are there, but it’s textbook rather than nuanced. It doesn’t distract, but it does mean the narrative lacks that distinctive Fleming flavour. Of course, Horowitz is a masterful storyteller in his own right.Trigger Mortis is certainly layered with Fleming’s inflection, but it’s Horowitz’s interpretation rather than impersonation; there is a distinction, and the author has leaned the right way,

I tore through Trigger Mortis in a matter of hours, and loved every moment. Readers who’ve yet to sample Fleming’s work would be wise to sample Horowitz’s offering, then delve back into the original work. This is pure, undulated escapism. The stunts are crazy, the plots are implausible; and that’s precisely what James Bond is all about. Veteran Bond readers shouldn’t dismay that Fleming’s work has yet to be matched. It is an impossible task; he was a writer without equal. Instead, rejoice in the fact that this latest James Bond adventure perfectly captures why we love 007. Some brilliant writers have helmed 007 novels in recent years; most recently Sebastian Faulks, Jeffrey Deaver and William Boyd, a trio of which produced three solid, entertaining yarns. Horowitz has joined esteemed company, and he should be gleeful, for he has proven the best of them.

(So far…!)

ISBN: 9781409159537
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Imprint: Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )
Publisher: Orion Publishing Co
Publish Date: 8-Sep-2015
Country of Publication: United Kingdom