#981: The Twist of a Knife (2022) by Anthony Horowitz

Twist of a Knife

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I’m taking my life in my hands reviewing The Twist of a Knife (2022) by Anthony Horowitz, you realise.  After all, if I don’t like it, I might end up like Harriet Throsby, the theatre critic for The Times who criticised Horowitz’s play Mindgame and ended up stabbed to death. No, wait, that was fiction…wasn’t it? That’s the plot of The Twist of a Knife. The meta-fictional element of this series, in which Horowitz teams up with ex-D.I. Daniel Hawthorne to solve a series of murders, is loads of fun, but I do catch myself spending the first quarter of each book thinking “Is that a real person? Wait, did that really happen?”. It’s a difficult act to juggle, but Horowitz has mastered it.

And so this time around it’s the murder of Harriet Throsby which concerns us, and concerns Anthony — the fictional version of Horowitz — far more personally since he finds himself accused of her murder following her savage review. As motives go it’s a little thin, but the small matter of some very compelling physical evidence makes Anthony’s guilt seem all the more likely…and so he turns to the brilliant, perceptive Hawthorne to dig him out of trouble before charges can be brought and newspapers really do start carrying headlines like “ALEX RIDER AUTHOR ON MURDER CHARGE”.

I’m slightly safer than Mrs. Throsby in that this review isn’t going to be a pan — there’s too much fun to be had in Horowitz’s playing with the trappings of the traditional mystery, as well as his own character’s predicament and delicate ego (“If there’s a book of mine in a room, it’s always the first thing I’ll see.”) — but I still came away from this a little underwhelmed in the mystery elements, feeling that, after the good work done in bombarding you with over-subtle clues what lead nowhere (and some superbly unsubtle clues that turn out to matter a great deal), the eventual solution and the deductions that lead to it lack the weight and cleverness that Horowitz has shown himself capable of writing. In a way this makes what he’s doing here the perfect updating of the Golden Age into the modern milieu, because so much of what was written in the genre’s heyday was fairly standard, but when someone shows themself capable of brilliance, there’s the tendency to want brilliance from them at every turn.

What is especially good here is the opening, laying the footings for the drama to come, and the sequence in which Anthony is processed after being arrested — showcasing Horowitz’s talent for strong, clear prose that never veers into mawkishness even as his humanity is stripped away (becoming “nothing more than an object to be processed”) — as the stark contrast of his life to that point is drawn. The prospect of arrest and conviction for murder is horrifying enough on its own, but you really feel the horror of the situation, leavened by some great touched of humour (“My children’s books would collapse. On the other hand, it might help my crime-fiction sales.”). Indeed, the humanity of the situation, never just reducing this to a simple Killer + Body = Puzzle conundrum, is one of the book’s strongest aspects.

“I really shouldn’t say this, but I think someone has done the world a favour. She won’t be missed.”

“She had a husband and a daughter,” Hawthorne reminded him.

“So did Lucrezia Borgia.”

When it eventually transpires that a mere seven suspects exist at the intersection of means, motive, and opportunity — “Hawthorne would have solved the whole thing before breakfast” — we enter into the classic period of interviews, subtle linguistic clues, and all the fun of the fair that we come to these novels for. And Horowitz clearly loves writing this sort of stuff, with slips and freely-declared moments of insight littering the pages, peppered amidst so many other interesting details that you’ll definitely pick up on some and certainly sail past most. It’s in this regard that the book is most successful, as the points stack up in your mind and you find yourself keeping track of the who-said-what-when-and-to-whom that is the meat and drink of the traditional mystery. This is what we’ve come for, and the patterns that stumble out are as enjoyable as you’d hope, with some accidental revelations among the most striking (the end of chapter 21, for instance, made me hoot out loud).

And then, with everyone gathered together on the stage of the theatre (“It’s a terrific end – just like Agatha Christie!”), we’re treated to Hawthorne’s reconstruction of events and…I dunno, it just did not work for me. The algebra of the deductions simply doesn’t hold the weight I feel it should (rot13 for minor spoilers: G-fuveg + xabjyrqtr bs PPGI = va n eryngvbafuvc) and in key aspects of the plot (the framing of Anthony for the crime, for instance) the actions of the killer simply fall apart (rot13 for major spoilers: vs gur cyna jnf gb senzr Wbeqna, jul abg gnxr gur xavsr ur fgnoorq gur pnxr jvgu? Did I miss something there??). “Between (sic) them, the various suspects must have provided us with plenty of clues,” Anthony reflects at one point, and this is true, but the interpretations put on some of said clues lacks the rigour of The Word is Murder (2017) or Moonflower Murders (2020), which used many of the same principles to far more devastating effect.

But, hey, such is the individual nature of enjoyment that your own mileage will, of course, vary. I can’t deny loving a clue that was lifted whole cloth from Agatha Christie, and the linguistic elements of, let’s say, Harriet Throsby’s acerbic character are wonderfully handled. Additionally, the mystery of Hawthorne himself deepens in a very pleasing manner, and it’s to be hoped that this long game pays off — at least three more books are on the way in this series, so it’s to be hoped that some answers are forthcoming. All told, what’s here is good, and very good at it’s most successful, but I have high hopes for Horowitz and would like to see a little more grist in these mills as he updates the classic murder mystery for the modern age. Sure, I’m a little cool on this overall, but colour me very enthused for book five…


The Horowitz & Hawthorne mysteries:

1. The Word is Murder (2017)
2. The Sentence is Death (2018)
3. A Line to Kill (2021)
4. The Twist of a Knife (2022)

6 thoughts on “#981: The Twist of a Knife (2022) by Anthony Horowitz

  1. Ah, I do like this book, but it is a pretty. underwhelming mystery all things considered. I think this book’s strength lies more in it’s characters than the actual mystery puzzle plot itself, because this is definitely one of my favourite group of suspects compared to the other Hawthorne novels. Everyone just feels more, real, for lack of a better term, than you normally see with Horowitz.


    • Yes, I agree that the selection of suspects here does compel itself more than in the previous Hawthorne books. The people are very good, the situation is a cracker, and some of the clues are delightful…and yet still I came away a little dissatisfied. Maybe I’m the one at fault?

      No, no, that can’t be right…


  2. Great review, Jim. I generally enjoy the Hawthorne mysteries less than the Magpie series, because Hawthorne always felt more geared to be “Sherlock Holmes, but with a little more cluing, but still too little to constitute a proper GAD-esque puzzle plot”. I think the characterization and balance of autobiography and murder mystery make the series very fun though.


    • The complexity of Magpie/Moonflower really do compel them — the whole ‘double plot’ thing is ingeniously hard to make work, and Horowitz does a great job incorporating the Atticus Pund novels into the ‘real’ world they inhabit.

      I’d like to see a little more of that complexity here, even though there’s much here to celebrate, but I do also feel that Horowitz might just be warming up in this series — he’s clearly having a lot of fun playing with the gamesmanship of the genre, and I have a feeling something rather special might be on the way in the next book or two. And, hell, even if they’re merely very entertaining, well-written, well-clued mysteries like this I’ll still snap them up as soon as they’re published 🙂


  3. Interesting as I didn’t see The Word Is Murder as being the pinnacle of the series – I enjoyed Sentence and Trick more than that one. To be clear, I enjoyed them all, but this one I thought was the best of them. No particular reason why though…


    • For my taste, Sentence is the pinnacle of this series still — some wonderful clues, and a very clever plot. The others are by no means poor, and Horowitz is perhaps the finest proponent of the modern, classically-clued mystery doing wonderful work in a genre that’s already been producing excellent stuff for over a century, but I’d just like a little more from them, y’know?

      Never mind; I shall continue to buy them and support his efforts, because the guy really gets this style of novel in a way too few modern authors do. More power to him!


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