Anthony Horowitz is one of our most engaging writers. He has a conversational quality that makes for easy page-turning; a way of drawing you into his confidence and his world. Perhaps that’s because of his immense experience as a TV scriptwriter, with some of the best-written episodes of Midsomer Murders to his name, and of course multiple series of his own creation, the period detective drama Foyle’s War.
Indeed Foyle’s War forms part of the backdrop to this quirky, funny, absorbing novel. Horowitz casts himself as the lead character under his own, real name. In fact the book opens with a description of a day’s shoot on Foyle’s War in London. Horowitz is fascinating in his explanation of how complex even the most humdrum scene is to film. In this instance, Foyle’s foil, his driver (played by Honeysuckle Weeks) simply has to get off a bus and walk down the street. But that means all signs of the 21st century must first be removed – cars, satellite dishes, redundant TV aerials, cyclists, pedestrians in modern clothes, neon shop signs. It is World War Two, and these things lie in the future.
Then there are the airliners cruising overhead as they stack ready to land at nearby Heathrow. Plus the distant – and not so distant – sound of police, fire engine and ambulance klaxons. Recording is constantly halted because of interruptions.
Eventually conditions are perfect and the cameras roll. But as Weeks gets off the bus, a modern, 21st-century taxi sweeps into shot. If that wasn’t enough to ruin everything, it stops and the passenger gets out. He spots Horowitz standing behind the apoplectic director and gives him a cheerful wave.
‘Tony!’ he shouts. The director rounds on the writer. ‘Do you know this man?’ he hisses.
‘Yes,’ Horowitz reluctantly replies. ‘His name is Daniel Hawthorne. He’s a detective.’
And we’re off.
Hawthorne is a great character. He used to be a policeman, but was fired after an unfortunate incident with a paedophile held in Hawthorne’s custody. The man was being transferred from his police cell and, while handcuffed, had an unfortunate accident at the head of some stone steps. Well, an accident-on-purpose. Hawthorne, disgusted by his prisoner’s repellent crimes, administered some rough justice of his own and booted the man down the stairs. It was not a soft landing.
So Hawthorne has struck out as a private investigator, although he still works in an unofficial capacity for the police. Horowitz is his biographer, and has already written a book based on a case he helped Hawthorne crack. Now the detective is back with a new mystery for them to solve.
Richard Pryce is a smoothie of a divorce lawyer; a barrister who makes big money from his rich clients and bigger enemies of their exes forced to pay through the nose for their decree nisis. So it’s not a huge surprise when he is found bludgeoned to death in his luxury Hampstead home.
Horowitz plays Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes, and together the pair set out to unravel an increasingly complex case. There are a clutch of convincing suspects and it’s only in the closing pages that, in a twist worthy of a classic episode of Foyle’s War, we find out who the killer is. More Horowitz/Hawthorne mysteries please, Anthony.