Happy New Year!
The last book I read in 2019 and the first book I finished in 2020 is Anthony Horowitz’s new mystery series, The Sentence is Death. Yes, for those in the know, this is the second book of a series of novels (currently only two), starring former police detective Daniel Hawthorne and Anthony Horowitz (as himself). Of course, I realized too late that it is the second book of the series, despite the similarity in the phrasing of its title to that of the first book, The Word is Murder (which I also have, incidentally, but haven’t read). As I like to live dangerously, I went ahead and read it – new year, new me or whatever…
Based on the information provided in this novel, Hawthorne (he is called throughout the book) and Anthony Horowitz (I will call him Tony, for short) met in the first book under strange circumstances (okay, I don’t really know if it’s “strange,” as I haven’t read it yet) and for some reason decided to solve a crime together. In the course of the novel, Hawthorne somehow convinces Tony to write a true crime book series about him and their adventures.
This second book picks up sometime after the two had solved the first crime and Tony had submitted his manuscript to his publisher (he shares that he had signed a three-book deal, though it is not known if the real series is actually a trilogy). Hawthorne unexpectedly arrives on the set of Tony’s new season of Foyle’s War while filming to tell him about a new crime: the death of a semi-famous divorce lawyer. It seems like a fairly “ordinary” murder (if you can call murders “ordinary”) except for the fact that the number “182” had been written in green paint on the wall of the murdered lawyer’s living room. Hawthorne is a former detective who was recently fired (in the first book, perhaps) for his involvement in the “accidental” death of an arrested alleged pedophile. However, he was called in to help solve this high-profile case owing to his keen abilities and sharp deductive skills. Given his “collaboration” with Tony as his biographer/archivist/partner in crime, he brings Tony along to investigate the murder and interview the witnesses/suspects. Tony has to write a second novel for his series, so he reluctantly accompanies Hawthorne and “assists” him in solving the case. Trouble ensues when the official detectives handling the case, one Detective Inspector Cara Grunshaw and her slimy partner, force Tony to act as a spy and relay information from Hawthorne’s investigation to them lest they make his (Tony’s) life a living hell (which they pretty much do throughout the novel).
At the time of his murder, lawyer Richard Pryce was working on the divorce of wealthy real estate developer Adrian Lockwood and feminist writer/poet Akira Anno. A recent unsavory incident involving Anno and Pryce at a restaurant, where she “jokes” about attacking him with a wine bottle, pegs her as the primary suspect of the crime, especially because Pryce was bludgeoned to death with a very expensive bottle of wine given by her husband, no less. However, as murder mysteries go, things are not as obvious and clear cut as they seem, and the case becomes complicated as other suspects/witnesses are interviewed, including Pryce’s husband, Stephen Spencer, Pryce’s client Adrian Lockwood and Lockwood’s ex-wife Akira Anno, and Pryce’s interior decorator and beneficiary of his will, Davina Richardson. Hawthorne and Tony’s investigation leads them to other unexpected information regarding Pryce, which may or may not be related or relevant to the case.
As the mystery unfolds, so does the Hawthorne’s personal history and relationship with Tony. Tony depicts Hawthorne as a relatively unlikeable character – reticent, selfish, and manipulative. On top of that, Tony suspects him of having a sordid past that he wants to keep hidden. Tony depicts himself as, well, himself – screenwriter of numerous television series and author of adult murder mysteries, namely, Magpie Murders and the new Sherlock Holmes’ adventure The House of Silk (he had yet to write Moriarty in the novel), and the popular Alex Rider children’s series. However, given that Hawthorne is the main character of the series (the actual one and the metafiction one), Tony depicts himself as a secondary character, somewhat slow on the uptake and not too bright when it comes to solving crimes.
Even without the obvious references to Arthur Conan Doyle’s popular short stories, specifically, “A Study in Scarlett,” Horowitz’s book series is clearly a retelling of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, with Hawthorne playing the role of the brilliant yet socially awkward genius detective and Horowitz playing the part of his reluctant archivist, Dr. Watson.
Despite the attempts at a plot twist and misdirection as well as its metafiction elements, I found the book a bit bland compared with Horowitz’s other novels. However, because Horowitz put himself in his novel along with other real people, I amused myself by trying to figure out who he based some of his characters on, particularly writer/poet Akira Anno.
Overall, if you are a fan of Horowitz’s novels and in the mood for a metafictional murder mystery, then you can’t go wrong with The Sentence is Death. On a parting note, because the first book is called The Word is Murder and the second book is The Sentence is Death, can we expect the third installment to be called The Paragraph is Mangled? 🙂
The Sentence is Death (2018) – Anthony Horowitz
Penguin Random House; 375 (tpb)
Personal rating: 2.5/5