So after nearly three weeks, (which for a bookworm felt so much longer), I have finally had time and energy to read a book. The Daniel Hawthorne series is one I have very much enjoyed, so I have been very much looking forward to reading the third and latest book. I also thought the setting for this mystery was eerily pertinent to myself, given that I am going to be speaking at the Agatha Christie festival next week. Fingers crossed there won’t be any murders! Or if there is I expect Anthony Horowitz to sort them out!
‘There has never been a murder on Alderney.
It’s a tiny island, just three miles long and a mile and a half wide. The perfect location for a brand-new literary festival. Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne has been invited to talk about his new book. The writer, Anthony Horowitz, travels with him.
Very soon they discover that all is not as it should be. Alderney is in turmoil over a planned power line that will cut through it, desecrating a war cemetery and turning neighbour against neighbour. The visiting authors – including a blind medium, a French performance poet and a celebrity chef – seem to be harbouring any number of unpleasant secrets. When the festival’s wealthy sponsor is found brutally killed, Alderney goes into lockdown and Hawthorne knows that he doesn’t have to look too far for suspects. There’s no escape. The killer is still on the island. And there’s about to be a second death…’
Ooh it feels so good to have read a book. I’ve missed it! And what a book to kick start my reading off again with! Reflecting on my reading experience I think there are four consistent reasons I love this series.
Reason No. 1: The writer becoming a character in his own book.
The author placing himself into the book as a Watson narrator was a really good idea, as he channels his own experiences as a writer into the series and I felt they added a strong sense of authenticity. Very often we see his detective, Daniel Hawthorne entering into his literary world. Horowitz, (henceforth my name for the character and not the actual author), perceives these appearances as intrusions, where he expects Daniel to show him up or embarrass himself by doing the wrong thing. In the earlier book these moments are smaller, but in book 3, which begins with a meeting at the publishers and is then set during a literary festival, these intrusions are extended. However, as this narrative shows Daniel may cope far better in Horowitz’s ‘world’ than he expects, and this turn around of expectations is something he has to deal with. I am sure the author must have been asked about this, but I wonder what it has been like for him to create a fictional version of his self.
Each time I return to this series I am reminded of Leo Bruce’s Sergeant Beef series, which is chronicled by the reluctant and snobbish Lionel Townsend, who desperately wants to narrate the cases of a swankier and posher detective. The tension between those two characters finds a strong parallel in the Hawthorne series and I think the writer captures that dysfunctional and problematic relationship well, although very much putting his own creative stamp upon it. Their complicated bittersweet tragi-comedy relationship is one of the key reasons I look forward to returning to this series.
Reason No. 2: The Clues
You may think this is an odd thing to single out to praise. Surely, clues are bog standard in mystery novels, aren’t they? Well, you may think that, but these days sadly it is not often the case. I love the fact that I will pick up on some of them and interpret them correctly, pick up on others and misinterpret them, and then completely miss a whole slew of others. This mixture of grasping the wrong end of the stick and getting my eye in occurred again with this read and there is some wonderful sleight of hand in the cluing. In Agatha Christie fashion it might be a well-placed ambiguous word or a scene structured in a certain way to cause a particular assumption to be made. In addition, I think having such an active Watson narrator helps create a space for the reader to consider new information and suspects and then go on to develop theories about the case.
Reason No. 3: Daniel Hawthorne
Daniel Hawthorne is a very interesting variation of the “Great Detective” and at a point in the genre where you think nothing new could be done in that department, that is an achievement. Daniel does a Holmesian “turn” at the end of chapter one, and I love how Horowitz knows what he is doing and tries to not get sucked into playing the game, yet ultimately the temptation of wanting to know how he knows stuff gets too much for him.
Yet the “Great Detective” role is not treated as a sacred object in this book and is one which takes some battering such as when one suspect says to Daniel:
‘I was there when you were giving your talk and it struck me then that you have absolutely no heart at all. You don’t believe in the law. You don’t want to help people or society. You don’t seem to have any understanding of morality at all. You’re a detective. That’s all that matters to you.’
Moreover, the moral/ethical conundrums of the denouement also feed into the ideas raised in this suspect’s comment. This is not the first time a “Great Detective” has been accused of being heartless, but I found the writer’s exploration of this theme well executed.
Reason No. 4: Characters and Plot Go Hand in Hand
It can often be said that if you get great characterisation in a mystery then the plotting is sacrificed to a degree, and vice versa, and maybe it is in some books. But I think there are many writers who have shown that one can develop and influence the other and this is the case with this series. Daniel Hawthorne’s personal life is slowly being teased out in the stories, and this slow peeling away intertwines itself into the cases, more so in this current novel, and based on the final pages of the story I can’t wait to read book 4.
So on the whole this was a very enjoyable read and I found it interesting that in contrast to the other books in the series, this story takes a longer run up to the murder. That said the pacing of the mystery is not detrimentally affected and I felt that the writer kept feeding in new information or events at the right moments to prevent a dip.
The Word is Murder (2017)
The Sentence is Death (2018)