ROOTING FOR WATSON: The Twist of a Knife

How fortunate are we that, somewhere along the line in his 43-yearlong writing career, Anthony Horowitz turned to the mystery genre and became one of the best purveyors of the modern mystery in the classic style. He has managed to do this for readers, for television viewers, and especially for kids. He can craft an exciting spy thriller (the current Bond continuation novels, the Alex Rider series), a period mystery (Foyle’s War, the Holmes books, The Magpie Murders), and craft many a brilliant hour or two of TV crime stories (Midsomer MurdersPoirot). But it’s with his series of detective novels featuring ex-Scotland Yard D.I. Daniel Hawthorne that Horowitz has proven himself a master of the modern whodunnit and created one of the best characters in modern mystery fiction. I’m speaking, of course, of a certain writer, reluctant Watson, and misbegotten Everyman named . . . Anthony Horowitz. 

This meta-Horowitz is a delight, a successful author who gets no respect, and the perfect foil for Hawthorne. To be honest, my fondness for the fictional version of Anthony has made me slow to warm to Hawthorne, who reminds me of this perfectly awful detective that was assigned to a case where someone hacked my front door open with an axe and stole thousands of dollars worth of films and music. That is a much longer story than I can go into here, but the gist of it was that the detective operated on the assumption that I myself was behind the burglary in order to collect the insurance money. Even when the real criminals were captured months later, half my recovered property was never returned to me. I like to think that the San Francisco Police Department has Movie Night every Saturday, courtesy of yours truly. 

As the series has progressed, however, Hawthorne has become more than an annoying client to Anthony. He has proven himself a brilliant sleuth, and even – just occasionally – something of a friend to the author. And, to be honest, Book Anthony is about as effective a Watson as the original (but better than Captain Hastings – let’s give him that). And although Hawthorne puts Anthony through the wringer in every book, I’m starting to think that he cares about him, too, which is a very good thing, since here he is about to become Anthony’s savior. 

In their third adventure together, A Line to Kill, Hawthorne proved especially difficult, enough both to make me frustrated with him on Anthony’s behalf and for the author to sever all future professional ties. The first line of their fourth pairing, The Twist of a Knife, is “I’m sorry, Hawthorne. But the answer’s no. Our deal is over.”  Yes, that’s right: there will be no more books about Daniel Hawthorne . . . at least for now in this version of the universe. It’s easy to guess that Anthony will come to regret this decision very quickly, for Twist is at once their most traditional mystery yet and the one where the personal stakes couldn’t be higher. 

It seems that Anthony has written a play, a stage thriller called Mindgame. (The real Horowitz actually did write this very play, which opened in Colchester in 1999 and then transferred to the West End’s Vaudeville Theatre – exactly as it does in the novel.) Clearly inspired by the popularity of Anthony Shaffer’s small-cast thriller Sleuth, the play sounds both intriguing and slightly ridiculous, relying on out-of-nowhere twists, weird set elements, and copious amounts of stage violence to shock and entertain its audience. Still, it manages to a West End premiere with a respected director and cast of three, and it seems assured of success – if it can pass muster with the London critics, particularly Harriet Throsby of the Sunday Times. 

Keith Carradine starring in a New York production of Mindgame

It will surprise no one that Harriet is a monster, loathed and feared by her husband and daughter and by most of the cast and crew of Mindgame for past offenses. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of hateful victims who seem to revel in their nasty doings as Harriet does, but she is dispatched quickly, right after she skewers Mindgame in the Times. Almost immediately after she is found stabbed to death in the hallway of her home, Anthony’s doorbell rings, and Detective Cara Grunwald, his old nemesis from the second case, The Sentence Is Death, has arrived to arrest him for murder. 

Despite having severed ties with Hawthorne, there’s little doubt that the detective will come to the aid of his Watson/Bosworth. Several questions quickly arise: while the number of suspects is quickly limited to the company of Mindgames and a few hangers-on, would anyone really want to kill Harriet because of a bad review? And why would the killer seem so intent on framing Anthony when another character was actually seen waving a knife and threatening to murder the critic? And, finally, could Harriet’s death have anything to do with her earlier career as a crime reporter? 

The clock is ticking for Hawthorne to solve the crime before nasty Cara Grunwald can re-arrest Anthony, which makes the pages turn more quickly than ever before.  As usual, Horowitz solidly plants his clues within easy view of his readers but still manages to pull some surprises in the end. I found the solution perfectly satisfying, but let’s face it – the ultimate pleasure here is in watching Horowitz let us into his life, albeit a meta-fictional version of it. (This extends even to the acknowledgements at the end, so be sure and read them.) 

I have a mad crush on fictional Anthony, who is a combination subtle wit and comical sad sack. Horowitz loves to put “himself” in demeaning positions, as when he is booked and forced to spend a night in jail, or made to sleep in a tiny child’s bed with his feet hanging over the edge. Worst of all is being continually faced with a public that doesn’t see him in as fine an artistic light as he would like to be seen. (Surely, this “public” is as fictional as Book Anthony himself!) And, as much as Anthony is plunged into personal despair throughout the book, he still maintains a healthy ego (“If there’s a book of mine in a room, it’s always the first thing I’ll see.”) and manages to channel his own inner detective as he seeks to uncover Hawthorne’s secretive past. 

We only get a few tiny clues to that mystery here, but I take heart in thinking we’re going to receive a good number of future volumes in the Casebook of Hawthorne and Horowitz before the sleuth’s true self is revealed. If you doubt any of this to be true, simply read Chapter 26!

One thought on “ROOTING FOR WATSON: The Twist of a Knife

  1. I really enjoyed this – one of the stronger entries in this series with interesting characters, good clues, and a really well rendered portrait of the theatrical world. I think Horowitz’s best work has been elsewhere, but these books continue to delight!


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