Century | 2018 (1 November) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book
When divorce barrister Richard Pryce is bludgeoned to death with a £2000 bottle of wine, it appears to be an open and shut case. The ex-wife of one of Richard’s clients had threatened to do exactly the same thing to him just a few days before, in a restaurant where she poured a glass of wine over his head. But something about the case doesn’t feel right, not least because of the strange message written on the wall by Pryce’s body, and the more that the police delve, the more suspects they uncover. The list will not stop growing. Even though Richard was a generous benefactor to friends, a stickler for the rules when it comes to the law, a seeker for justice, he’s somehow given a fair few people the motive to do him in. The police are losing patience and so they call in ex-police detective and now Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne. And that means that Anthony Horowitz, Hawthorne’s long-suffering biographer, must come along too. Who knows, he may even solve the crime before Hawthorne? Solving the enigma that is Hawthorne might be far more difficult…
The Sentence is Death is the second novel in the Hawthorne series but you can easily read it on its own, although there is the serious risk that you’ll then have to seek out instantly the first, The Word is Murder. The Word is Murder is such a fantastic book and I’m delighted to say that The Sentence is Death is every bit as good, if not even better!
As before, The Sentence is Death is such a clever novel, written with impeccable skill and wit. It is also extremely entertaining and accessible. The premise is irresistible. Our author becomes one of his own main characters. The novel is part of his three-part biography of Hawthorne. Horowitz must fit this work in around his busy schedule, principally writing episodes of Foyle’s War for television and being on hand as the production team film around London. Anthony Horowitz gives us plenty of real-life details – we encounter familiar actors, real publishing people, well-known bookshops, members of Horowitz’s family – and then intermingling with all of that is the story of Hawthorne’s investigation into the murder of Richard Pryce. There is plenty of time, though, for Horowitz to wonder what secrets Hawthorne is keeping from him and to throw his hands up in the air in frustration at the infuriating nature of his subject. Hawthorne and Horowitz do not get along. Although the fact that Horowitz has now been made a member of Hawthorne’s book club suggests that maybe, deep, deep, deep down, they might have something in common.
And so while we can enjoy the fun conceit of the novel as biography, we can also revel in its murder mystery. It is fantastic! There are so many clues and red herrings – which pleases Horowitz who is well known for his Sherlock Holmes novels – and so many characters, all colourfully depicted, with secrets to hide. This is a wonderfully engaging story and I found it next to impossible to put down.
The figure of Hawthorne is also a big draw. He’s hard to dislike, however irritating he can be, and he’s as much an enigma to us as he is to our author. Horowitz might try to outguess him, to very funny results, but he doesn’t get very far. Hawthorne is such an intriguing character. I wonder what we’ll discover about him in book three – everything or nothing, I suspect.
The Sentence is Death is extremely entertaining, fun and engaging. Anthony Horowitz is greatly to be admired for what he’s achieved with these books, referencing all sorts of famous fictional detectives, resisting the ‘reality’ that he’s only good enough to be the Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes, getting into all sorts of trouble with the extraordinary police officer in charge of the case, trailing behind Hawthorne in more ways than one… There is so much going on, so much to enjoy, all written with such flair and humour, often at the author’s own expense. There’s something rather appealing in an author maintaining that he’s not able to solve the case when, of course, it’s in his own book! I cannot wait for book three and I cannot wait to read more Anthony Horowitz – I’ve ordered Magpie Murders to collect this week. I suspect I’m going to love it.
The Word is Murder