Why do we read detective stories?
It is a strange genre.
Every piece of advice is that tension and conflict are the driver of a narrative and, with this genre, unlike the thriller genre, the most significant conflict – the one which traditionally culminates in murder, as it does with this one – occurs significantly before the beginning on the novel! Instead, they focus on a secondary conflict between the detective’s quest for the murderer or for justice or for the truth…
Roland Barthes writes of readerly and writerly texts: a readerly text relegates the reader to a passive consumer; a writerly text engages the reader and invites him or her to participate in the creation of the text itself. Detective fiction, perhaps appeals because it is very writerly in that sense: the reader, alongside the detective, locates and weighs and evaluates the evidence, overhears and judges and compares the witnesses’ accounts. We construct our own narrative from the threads given to us by the author which may be confirmed or contradicted by the detective. There is an article by Paul Finnerty here which compares four detective stories with this precept in mind. It is worth a read.
Anyway, returning to Horowitz’ new Detective Daniel Hawthorne book and sequel to The Word is Murder, I found myself doing exactly that: anticipating the various revelations and twists that came in the book… but finding that I had got it right and predicted all the twists was strangely disappointing. I am used to being fed red herrings and led into cul-de-sacs, used to feeling outwitted by the author. It felt a little like a let down.
Anyway, looking to the plot, Daniel Hawthorne sweeps the fictionalised version of Horowitz himself into the murder of Richard Pryce, a divorce lawyer, who was
found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine – a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.Amazon
That’s from the summary on Amazon and is a little misleading: Pryce was homosexual and living with his husband in a marital home. Not a bachelor pad.
But anyway, above the dead body of the lawyer, the number 182 is daubed on wall in green paint.
A plethora of possible suspects are uncovered fairy rapidly: Adrian Lockwood, Pryce’s own client; Akira Anno, Lockwood’s aggrieved ex-wife who seems to have poured wine over his head and threatened him a few days previously; Pryce’s husband, Stephen Spencer; Davina Richardson, the widow of one of Pryce’s friends from University. Others join them too. None of them were particularly vivid characters and I did find myself having to consciously try to recall who was who – though maybe that says more about my state of mind whilst reading than anything else – which did take me out of the experience a little.
Horowitz’ writing is clear and straightforward and the structure achingly familiar: Hawthorne is Holmes to Horowitz’ Watson. Having (a version of) the author serve as protagonist and first person narrator is less usual but it grounds the novel in routine domesticity – with mildly interesting insights into life as an author and book festivals and relationships with agents – but I’m not sure what it contributes beyond that.
Nor, really, did the new character Detective Inspector Cara Grunshaw – bullying and intimidating police officer – add much. Her presence was rather cliched and out-of-date and neither introduced any particular conflict not barrier to Hawthorne’s investigation.
It was an enjoyable enough read. Light. Unchallenging. Familiar. And there is nothing wrong with that. I’d just have enjoyed something more surprising from the experience.
Plot / Pace:⭐⭐⭐
Date: 1st November 2018