The Twist of a Knife is the fourth in the Hawthorne series by Anthony Horowitz, and it’s the best so far. Horowitz once again plays himself: the narrator and Watson to private investigator Hawthorne’s Holmes. This time, Horowitz is the main suspect when obnoxious theatre critic Harriet Throsby is murdered, hours after writing a stinging review of Horowitz’s play. What follows is a witty romp through theatre land (with nods to Midsomer Murders), with a genuine and solvable puzzle underpinning it all.
I need to justify ‘best’. After all, The Word is Murder included plenty of fourth wall – and very meta – asides, The Sentence is Death included a superb mystery, and A Line to Kill took us to the Channel Islands which is always a fun trip. I think this time Horowitz has really focused on entertaining us, and there are three things that make The Twist of a Knife stand out.
First, a murder victim, Harriet Throsby, who is one of the most appalling characters I’ve come across for a long while. Throsby will stop at nothing to be genuinely nasty. She ruins lives and is deliberate about doing so. We readers may believe we are nice people, and frown on the death penalty, but we all love a villain to get their comeuppance. When Throsby’s name appears on the page we cackle and we pretend to be shocked and then we lap it all up, genuinely and openly appalled and probably secretly delighted at the same time. We aren’t upset about what’s happened to her, whereas earlier books in this series seemed more ambiguous.
Second, Horowitz is increasingly comfortable playing with what is real and what is not. A large part of the action takes place in and around the theatre: the venue of illusion. Horowitz sets the scene early on, when he points out that
It’s obvious there’s going to be another murder because if there hadn’t been, why would I have written anything at all? The very fact that you’re holding this book, complete with compulsory bloodstain on the cover, rather spoils the surprise.
You will probably spend too long on Horowitz’s wikipedia page to work out how fiction interplays with reality. The book becomes more enjoyable when you take certain aspects at face value – but you’ll have to decide which. Yes, he did write a play called Mindgame, no it doesn’t fit with the timeline of this novel. Horowitz describes a part of London I used to know well, he does so authentically, but does he really only have 500 books in his flat, and does he really answer all his fan mail? Does he really believe it when he says, ‘You’d think someone is being murdered almost every day of the week but fortunately real life isn’t like that.’ Obviously not.
Third, Horowitz has always known how to deliver comedy and in these books it is often through self-deprecation. But I can’t remember the last time I genuinely laughed out loud during the denouement of a crime novel. There is a lightness to this novel – reinforced by some plot points that are improbable – and it’s all the better for it.
The case against this book also refers to its improbability: Grunshaw and Mills are ridiculous detectives and their methods are not particularly believable. This is as far from the gritty, socially-real noir as you can get. The epilogue is awful, jumping the shark somewhat. And Horowitz’s little set piece on cancel culture starts in a stilted way (though it recovers). So let’s be clearer about what I mean by ‘best’. I think that Horowitz has set out to entertain us. And for a few hours he continues to tease with the format, to bring us a genuinely enjoyable cosy crime. This is just about as smooth as it gets.
Thanks to Century for the review copy.
You may also like our coverage of the other books in the Hawthorne series: