A Line to Kill, by Anthony Horowitz – book review

Over the weekend, Anthony Horowitz appeared at the Iceland Noir book festival. I hope that the real Horowitz had a better time than his autobiographical character had at a fictional literary event. If he didn’t, I shall be (a) surprised and (b) most put out on his behalf. That’s what A Line to Kill does to you.

Front cover of A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Anthony Horowitz’s problem is that he’s too good at making us like Anthony Horowitz. We’re sympathetic to the author who gives us witty self-deprecation and one-liners about Dan Brown. That means that when people treat him badly in our eyes, we are likely to turn against them. And too many of the cast of A Line to Kill do that. Line is the third in Horowitz’s series in which he plays the role of detective’s side-kick to investigator Daniel Hawthorne. It’s meta than ever, because it describes the forthcoming launch of the first novel, The Word is Murder, about which more anon, and a road trip of the damned, namely E-list writers at a terrible literary festival in which our man Horowitz shares billing with a discount Derek Acorah, a plagiarist poet and a shouty stereotype chef. Maybe it comes across more grim than Horowitz intends, but I can’t help getting irritated at these idiots. Don’t they know our mate needs a bit of a break?

Thing is, it’s a bit personal. At one point Horowitz muses that he is going to run out of titles with grammatical allusions. This blog previously called for a future instalment to be called The Paragraph is Fatality and we remake the offer in the knowledge that the idea is too appalling to be taken up. More seriously, in the first chapter, Penguin Random House, are giving our hero a bad time and are at the same time sending out proof copies of Word to ‘bloggers, reviewers and key customers’ and although they are referring here to actual printed copies, and not the electronic copies available to we amateurs, I feel complicit in Big Publishing’s machine to belittle and denigrate. Mr Horowitz, should you read this, I can only apologise both for my part in your oppression and also for – for the sake of pretentious whimsy – pretending to miss the point so spectacularly.

Other thing is, Horowitz has too much experience and knowledge across the crime and mystery genre for us to think that he doesn’t know exactly what he is doing at all times. I’m assuming that the knowing asides and also the tension with Hawthorne are meant to contrast with Conan Doyle (with whose works I’m not really familiar). At one point Horowitz writes,

Knife wounds are particularly disgusting. And I write about these things for entertainment!

Later, though, he tells us the story of Derek Abbott, a truly disgusting man. I don’t want to know about Derek Abbott in as much detail as we get and I’m not sure he has to have done these specific things for the narrative to come together and for the purposes of what is our entertainment. The case of Abbott does allow Horowitz to provide depth to the question of privately-dispensed justice. Perhaps I was too appalled by Abbott such that the nuance passed me by. (And we know that Abbott’s crimes will feature in another book about Hawthorne as we explore his early life. I am not sure that I am looking forward to that.)

But if the nuance has gone over my head, such is the life of the sidekick, and Horowitz plays that role to perfection. The cleverness of the plot is revealed at the end and, having made it my business to systematically suspect everyone in turn, I still managed to be every bit as wrong as the useless local plod.

If this series does consider the backstory of its star, troubled detective, it won’t be the first to do so. But Horowitz has shown enough originality in this series so far for us to give him the benefit of the doubt. The Hawthorne saga continues to delight, when it doesn’t make us fret for its narrator.

Thanks to Century for the review copy

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