The Twist of the Knife (2022) by Anthony Horowitz

I was very excited when I was able to pick the latest book in the Daniel Hawthorne series as my prize from Penguin Bookmarks, as it is one that had been on my radar as a must read. This anticipation was buoyed by the positive reviews of my blogging friends Brad and the Puzzle Doctor. Anthony Horowitz has upped the stakes, as you can see in the synopsis below…

Cover for Anthony Horowitz's The Twist of the Knife.

Synopsis

‘“Our deal is over.”
That’s what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind. His new play, Mindgame, is about to open in London’s Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket. On opening night, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it. Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby’s murder, thrown into prison and interrogated. Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him.
But will Hawthorne take his call?’

Overall Thoughts

Anthony Horowitz has a knack for reacquainting you with a series that you might not have turned to since the time the last book came out. Within a few pages of this book a regular reader of the series can quickly slip back into the world of Anthony and Daniel Hawthorne. (To differentiate between the author and his fictionalised version of himself, I will refer to the character by his first name only). The frictional Watson/Holmes relationship, strongly developed in Leo Bruce’s Sergeant Beef series, is alive and well in Anthony Horowitz’s book and his pair are in fine form:

The Word is Murder was really good.”

“You read it?” I asked.

“Some of it. But the reviews were great! You should be pleased with yourself. The Daily Mail said it was splendidly entertaining.”

“I don’t read reviews – and that was the Express.”

I like how it is not black and white with these two characters as whilst Daniel’s antisocial habits are evident to see, Anthony is also presented as a character who can be difficult and demanding in his own way. For instance, there is a modicum of emotional petulance within Anthony and in the following example below, it amusingly looks like he is more annoyed at not being able to solve the cases that Daniel resolves, than he is at having been stabbed twice:

“I don’t find it easy writing books when I don’t know the ending. I don’t like walking three steps behind you like the murder-mystery equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh. I’m sorry, Hawthorne But this hasn’t been much fun for me. I’ve been stabbed twice! I’ve never come anywhere close to getting anything right.”

Theirs is an interestingly dysfunctional friendship and Anthony Horowitz provides a great plot in The Twist of the Knife, for testing this friendship to its limits.

One bone of contention in their friendship is the fact Anthony knows very little about the personal life of Daniel and this frustrates him on more than one level as operating within the role of Watson biographer, Anthony feels he is failing to provide his readers with such details. This opens a brief debate on the idea of what is needed or desired in a mystery. Anthony posits the requirement for deep personal details which show how a protagonist detective ticks, whilst Daniel seems to hold the position that knowing the detective’s role is sufficient. The priority of the mystery is the murder! Over the decades the genre has sat in either corner and all positions in between and it is something which can still cause a lot of discussion even today. Some perceive older crime fiction as treating the detective character too functionally, whilst others have felt modern crime fiction has become too obsessed with detailing their sleuth’s personal problems. Let me know what you think!

In keeping with other books in the series, there are moments of metafictional humour, although this is not the overarching tone of the piece. One of my favourite moments of this type of humour though, concerns the change to the theme of the titles in this series.

‘I decided that all the titles would have some sort of literary reference. After all, I was a writer; he was a detective. The Word is Murder, The Sentence is Death, A Line to Kill. It has seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’d already run out of grammatical allusions. Life Comes to a Full Stop? It wouldn’t make sense in America, where they have periods. The Case of the Missing Colon? It would work if a body part went from a morgue.’

Anthony Horowitz also occasionally breaks the fourth wall, in a way which reminded me of another book I had read this year, Benjamin Stevenson’s Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone (2022). Like Stevenson, Anthony Horowitz uses such moments to just own the well-established crime fiction tropes he is about to use and the artificial nature of the genre:

‘Despite everything I’ve just written, it’s obvious that there’s going to be another murder because if there hadn’t been, why would I have written anything at all? The very fact that you’re holding this book, complete with compulsory bloodstain on the cover, rather spoils the surprise.’

The theatre milieu of the story is painted for us by someone who has lived and breathed it and I loved the real note of authenticity in the prose. It was a nice touch to have extracts from the Mindgames script included in the chapter which takes place on the opening night of the play. Furthermore, I would also say that the narrative voice has a pleasing conversational tone, such as here:

‘The Vaudeville is such a beautiful theatre. The Victorians really wanted you to enjoy your evening so they went crazy with the gilt and the red plush, the mirrors and the chandeliers, making sure that the sense of drama would begin long before you sat down. It’s strange that they were less concerned about leg room, sight lines and toilets, but I suppose you can’t have everything.’

When reading this book, I thought to myself that this is the type of story that would be well suited to being on audio – so it is no surprise that it is in fact available in that format!

The author sets the tension levels to high in this mystery by only giving Daniel a maximum of 48 hours to save Anthony from being re-arrested. This is a tight deadline, yet true to form Daniel still has an open mind as to whether Anthony is guilty – much to chagrin of the latter. I liked how we have a limited number of suspects, and that the solution does not introduce a new character at the last minute as the killer. The restricted cast gives the mystery a more classic crime feel/structure. Regarding the solution I identified the killer but for the wrong reasons. There is one premise or principle which the reader should be able to work out, if they have a good memory or are a dab hand at intuitive hunches. However, I think there are some aspects of the solution which are beyond the reach of the reader to solve, as Daniel does keep a couple of cards up his sleeves and I think there is one bit of wording which is unfairly misleading. One thing I would have liked to see more of in the back-to-back interviews, was more information/material for the reader to mull over in helping them piece the solution together. Nevertheless, the author has a very engaging prose style, which makes it a successful page turner. I can’t imagine it taking anyone very long to read this book! I now eagerly await the next title in the series.

Rating: 4.5/5

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