Book Review

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

the sentence is death

I thoroughly enjoyed The Word is Murder, the first novel to feature the unlikely pairing of Detective Daniel Hawthorne and his reluctant sidekick, “Tony” Horowitz.  As this is the second instalment in this series, I do recommend reading The Word is Murder first.  While the crimes are separate and the novel would work as a standalone, I think that the reader needs to read the first book to fully understand and appreciate the relationship between Hawthorne and Anthony, and there are some references to their previous case included in this novel.

You shouldn’t be here. It’s too late…

These, heard over the phone, were the last recorded words of successful celebrity-divorce lawyer Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad with a bottle of wine – a 1982 Chateau Lafite worth £3,000, to be precise.

Odd, considering he didn’t drink. Why this bottle? And why those words? And why was a three-digit number painted on the wall by the killer? And, most importantly, which of the man’s many, many enemies did the deed?

Baffled, the police are forced to bring in Private Investigator Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, the author Anthony, who’s really getting rather good at this murder investigation business.

But as Hawthorne takes on the case with characteristic relish, it becomes clear that he, too, has secrets to hide. As our reluctant narrator becomes ever more embroiled in the case, he realises that these secrets must be exposed – even at the risk of death…

For me, this series evokes a sense of the old school detective novels – the likes of Holmes and Poirot.  Hawthorne is a private detective, but often works with the police on those cases that are particularly complex:

He was called in when the police got what they called a ‘sticker’ – that is, a case which presented obvious difficulties from the start.

As such, the focus of the investigation isn’t on the forensics, but follows a more traditional investigation of interviewing witnesses and potential suspects, and utilising those same powers of observation and deduction that those most famous fictional detectives displayed.  The cases are incredibly complex, and I love the various clues and red herrings that the reader is presented with.  I find it impossible to differentiate between the two, and I haven’t managed to solve one of these cases yet.

One of the features of private detective novels is the somewhat hapless police officers who share information with and support the investigation of our brilliant detective:

Holmes has Lestrade. Poirot has Japp. Morse often tussled with Chief Superintendent Strange. It’s a simple fact of life that a clever private detective needs a much less clever police officer in much the same way as a photograph needs both light and dark.  Otherwise, there’s no definition.

Hawthorne doesn’t have a regular detective he works with; his investigations take place across London and will involve whichever local branch of the police that was first called to the scene.  But Hawthorne doesn’t need such a character, as I think that this is the role that Horowitz has written for himself.  It made me wonder if Anthony has Hawthorne refer to him as “Tony” in order to differentiate himself from the version of himself in his novels.  Or, it could just be an unintentional wind up on Hawthorne’s part – he’s not the sort to worry about whether a person is happy to have their name abbreviated like this, however common it might be.

While Anthony has supposedly written himself into these novels, I think that his fictional version is a far more inept assistant than he would be in reality.  The novels are told from Anthony’s perspective, and so the reader knows what’s going on in his mind and his thoughts on the investigation, without the added insight that Hawthorne could provide.  And, Anthony’s views on an investigation, who the guilty party is, often coincide with my own thoughts.  Which probably means that I would be an inept, bumbling assistant, too 😦  It’s Anthony’s character that gains the support of the reader (this reader, at least) as he is eminently more likeable than Hawthorne.  Despite his obvious brilliance, Hawthorne is not a people person, and his rough treatment of his sidekick garners sympathy for Anthony.

I’m really enjoying this series, and I hope that we’ll see more of this unlikely pairing – the novels refer to a three-book deal, and I hope that that element of the story proves to be true as a minimum.  Highly recommended for those who enjoy a good ol’ fashioned whodunnit.

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