Witty, original mystery
Reviewed in the United Kingdom 🇬🇧 on October 3, 2022
Anthony Horowitz's Hawthorne novels are what I think is now my current favourite detective series. The Twist of a Knife is the fourth in the series and, as always, Horowitz narrates the story as himself, with the premise that he writing crime novels based on Daniel Hawthorne's investigations.
Hawthorne, a disgraced former police officer who was thrown out of the force for assaulting a suspected paedophile in custody, does not make Anthony's task easy. He's secretive about his investigative breakthroughs and his private life, deadpan to the point of blankness, and almost childlike in both his bluntness and his jaw-dropping cheek. He insists on calling Anthony 'Tony', which Anthony hates, and seems to be able to inveigle his way into places with a mysterious charm that's almost never apparent in his relationship with Anthony himself. In short, he is consistently infuriating, and yet at the same time utterly fascinating.
At the start of The Twist of a Knife, Anthony has honoured his three-book contract with Hawthorne and has no desire to continue their partnership. Instead, his attention is focused on the opening of his new play in the West End, a career landmark and a lifelong ambition fulfilled. But then a broadsheet theatre critic gives the production a viciously bad review, the kind that can close a show down. The next morning, she's found murdered with one of the souvenir daggers given to the cast and crew on the opening night, and all evidence points towards Anthony being the culprit.
Anthony, clearly, should use the one phone call he's allowed when under arrest to contact his solicitor or his wife - but inevitably, when it comes to the crunch, it's Hawthorne's number he dials.
Like the previous books in the series, The Twist of a Knife feels like a modern take on Golden Age detective fiction, and it's a highly successful one, complete with a fiendishly clever plot, a sleuth pitting his wits against the police to solve the crime, and a classic ensemble reveal. Horowitz's novels are always masterclasses in pacing, and The Twist of a Knife is no exception, with the investigation itself becoming a race against time to find the real murderer before Anthony is charged.
It's also, at times, very funny. The many pretensions and flaws of the characters are well-observed and there is nobody who can take down an ego like Hawthorne, who does so with such an matter-of-fact ease of manner that it's often unclear whether he's even doing it on purpose. As always, Horowitz is remarkably willing to present his own character as very much the Watson to Hawthorne's Holmes, always one step behind in the murder investigation.
However, in addition to the self-contained murder plot in each novel in this series, there is a continuing puzzle to be solved, which is the mystery of Hawthorne himself. He appears to have been married at some point, and he has a son. His only interest is making elaborate Airfix models, and his social life seems to consist solely of going to a slightly awkward book club with the other residents of his apartment block, where lives in a peculiarly anonymous flat which he claims to be housesitting in for his 'sort of half-brother'. But most intriguingly, he is extremely cagey about his past, and Anthony has reason to believe that Hawthorne might have an awful lot to hide. Partly driven by a desire to beat Hawthorne at his own game and partly by a writer's natural instinct to build a character's back story, Anthony chips away a little more of Hawthorne's defences in each book in the series.
This is made all the more intriguing by an underlying darkness in Hawthorne, which simmers beneath the Christie-esque mystery plot in each novel and occasionally threatens to bubble to the surface. There are elements of Hawthorne's character that hint at sadness, but there are also times when his manner can be sinister, even cruel. He can appear understanding towards the suspects he interviews, but he can also be needlessly hard on them, and one wonders whether any sympathy we see in him is pure deception.
As I understand it, there are a few more books planned in this series. As far as I'm concerned, they can't come soon enough.
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