Many thanks to Anthony Horowitz and Penguin Books for the chance to read this ARC, courtesy of NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve really enjoyed Horowitz’ crime capers in the past as he has played with the form: the Susan Ryeland series (Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders) which interpose Atticus Pund’s fiction-within-a-fiction detective story within Ryeland’s own investigations; and the Hawthorne and Horowitz Mysteries (The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death) where our author guest stars as himself tagging along with the erstwhile Detective Daniel Hawthorne. Let’s be honest, these are not series which are going to win literary prizes, but they are well crafted and fun who-dunnits which also offer a sneak into the literary and publishing world.
And A Line to Kill – the third installment of the Hawthorne and Horowitz series – is just that: all the joy and entertainment of a Sunday night cosy detective show.
On this occasion, the premise is that Horowitz has been invited to attend a literary fesitval on Alderney – the baby brother island to Guernsey and Jersey, measuring barely 5km long and 2.5 km wide, home to a shade over 2000 souls, according to Wikipedia.
It is undeniably beautiful and picturesque – and for the purposes of this novel unspoiled by almost any crime having never had a murder case.
The novel brings together a small cast of writers with their own secrets and histories, including a blind psychic, an unhealthy chef, a children’s author, a local war historian and a French performance poet. A somewhat eclectic mix and Horowitz places this motley crew in an isolated location which is itself riven with political tension as a plan to run an electrical power line through the island to connect France and England. The sponsor of the festival – spinthewheel.com, an online casino – is owned by Charles le Mesurier one of whose employees is one Derek Abbott, the alleged paedophile who Hawthorne allegedly threw down a flight of stairs, an action which led to his leaving the police.
One of the pleasures of this book is the prickly relationship between (the ficitonalised) Horowitz and Hawthorne: they both seem to needle each other and erect impenetrable barriers against the other, yet both seem reliant on the other too. Hawthorne has remained an enigmatic and mysterious figure in the novels, with only the barest snippets of his life having been revealed: his wife and children have been mentioned, his career insofar as it was relevant, his hobby making model planes, his homophobia… but he is a pretty closed book.
So the chance to see into his world, to have a little more of him revealed is intriguing? Was the intrigue satisfied, though? Perhaps a little, but more interest was generated in Hawthorne as a character – who actually is he? – in the final pages than was perhaps resolved in the earlier chapters.
Oh, and watching Hawthorne upstage Horowitz at the literary festival was a delight!
What I Enjoyed
- The setting on the island of Alderney – although it could, perhaps, have been a little more intense, a little more claustrophobic….
- The characterisation of Hawthorne – he is a genuinely intriguing character about whom little has been revealed. He is very obviously (and consciously, I think) modelled on Sherlock Holmes.
- The clearer focus: the previous two novels – if I remember rightly – have both twisted towards the thriller genre by the conclusion as Horowitz blunders into the path of dangerous people and is nearly killed. This novel kept itself within detective conventions more.
- The snippets of life in the publishing world, even if the meeting at the “surprisingly shabby and unattractive” offices of Penguin Random House didn’t have the glamour of the meeting with Spielberg in an earlier novel! I did love Horowitz’ own puzzlement – which mirrored my own – at the possibility of coming up with a series of titles combining grammar and death! What might be next? The Verb Is Finite? The Modifier Is Dangling?
What Could Have Been Different
- The resolution, about which I will reveal nothing, but to say that it was a little obvious and predictable from about half way through, even though I missed most of the clues that Horowitz put in. There were aspects that did take me by surprise, but the overall motives and situation was a little… familiar.
Plot / Pace:
Page Count: 384
Publisher: Century (Penguin)
Date: 19th August 2021