I was delighted to recently read that Amazon had renewed Alex Rider for a second season, after its big budget launch first in Europe in June 2020, then in North America later in the year. I found it to be tremendous fun and happily recommended the show to people who asked what it was like. Anthony Horowitz is the creator of Alex Rider and has, to date, published thirteen novels in the series, as well as some short stories and additional chapters available online. A mightily prolific author, Mr Horowitz doesn’t stop there. I mentioned in my very first post on this website that he’s had authorised runs with well-known classic fictional characters Sherlock Holmes and James Bond. I’ve read these, and I adore them. I reviewed Moonflower Murders previously.
This time around, though, I want to draw your attention to a pair of novels that accomplish something unique. The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death feature former Met detective Daniel Hawthorne who moonlights as a police consultant when the Force needs an extra pair of eyes for murder cases that defy logic. Hawthorne has made a few enemies from his time as a detective, and comes up against a lot of resistance from former colleagues. But he has an ace up his sleeve, and that’s the author himself. Anthony Horowitz goes all meta on his readers, placing himself side-by-side with Hawthorne as they solve murders so complex they’d make your eyes water.
What Mr Horowitz does is quite simple. In The Word is Murder, the author is approached by Hawthorne, who worked as a (fictional) police consultant for his real life BBC show Injustice. Hawthorne is looking for “Tony” to follow him around and write about him as he solves a case for the Met. Hawthorne won’t take no for an answer and kind of strong-arms the author into doing his bidding. The pair get off to a ropey start, with Hawthorne possessing very little in what you might call people skills. He’s rude, arrogant, very secretive, and tight with his money. But what he lacks in sociability, he more than makes up with his astute skills of deduction. Think Sherlock Holmes, but more obnoxious.
What I really enjoyed about this book, and the one that followed, is how Mr Horowitz mixes his real life in with the fictional one. He’s working on Foyle’s War and the screenplay he was writing at the time for the sequel to Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, and Hawthorne’s interference plays havoc with the writer’s means of living. One funny sequence in TWIM has Hawthorne gatecrash a meeting “Tony” is having with both Spielberg and Peter Jackson.
The case itself is an ingenious whodunnit. Diana Cowper walks into a local undertaker’s office and plans her own funeral. She is found dead that night, strangled in her own home. The questions are how? and why? Similar to Agatha Christie’s Poirot and Miss Marple novels, the suspects are plentiful, and the solution is extreme but logical. Not a clue is missed by Hawthorne, and when “Tony” thinks he has the answer, Hawthorne takes great pleasure in proving him wrong. The relationship is more Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce than Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke. Still, Tony and Hawthorne see the case out to its end, and the author publishes their joint efforts.
The Sentence is Death continues their collaboration with yet another murder case, with their personal relationship no closer to being BFFs. This time the unfortunate victim in a high-profile divorce lawyer who’s beaten to death at home: yet another locked-room mystery. Who doesn’t love these? It’s a supremely enjoyable crime caper in which we get to learn more about Hawthorne’s past, and that despite appearances and behaviour, he’s a man of honour and bound to the truth, no matter whose toes he steps on. There is peril for Anthony Horowitz, too. He gets into more than his fair share of scrapes and too-close-for-comfort escapes from certain death. Once again, I enjoyed how his fictional life collided with real-life events. And the repartee between the two characters is ripe with zingers and foreshadowing.
A third book is on the way for 2021, and while I’ve yet to dive into Mr Horowitz’ Alex Rider ouevre, I am very content with his Hawthorne and Horowitz series. He’s an amazing writer, who makes the job of writing for a living look so easy.
P.S.: When I first joined Twitter in 2009, my feed was full of writers and bloggers. Now, due to present political and environmental reasons, it’s full of lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists. Therefore I have set up a Twitter account solely for this blog and I aim to focus on the world of books and the people who write and write about them. You can follow at here, AardvarkianReviews. Thank you. And thank you for reading.