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Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz

Firstly, I should apologise that the first review I’m writing is of book number five in a series (the Hawthorne series). But the praise I am about to heap on this latest addition to a thoroughly fabulous series can easily apply to all the rest. A prolific writer, apart from many books, Anthony Horowitz has written for TV, the large screen and added to the Sherlock Holmes canon as well. He’s also beloved by younger readers (though not that age group alone) for his Alex Rider series.

I have adored all his books (Magpie Murders were fabulous), but I if I had to name a favourite, it would be this entire series, mainly because, for the first time, Horowitz inserts himself into the story as a character. not just any character either, but as Anthony Horowitz, the famous writer, replete with deadlines, a movie script to finish, a TV show to write etc etc.

The premise for the first book in the series, The Word is Murder, is that a disgraced and retired former detective, Daniel Hawthorne, wants someone to write a book about his exploits. For some reason, Horowitz finds himself assigned, as he sees it, with the unlucky task by his agent and publisher who are charmed by Hawthorne, a man Horowitz isn’t sure what to make of. After all, why would a successful author, with a deep imaginative well to draw from, need to essentially ghost write for a sacked gumshoe and gruff detective? What then unfolds is a series of genuinely twisty mysteries, filled with belly laughs, indiscreet and fascinating asides about the book and film industries, the name-dropping of various luminaries and celebrities (I reckon so many of them would be delighted to see their names appear in these books, even if it sometimes in an unflattering way – which only goes to show what good sports they are), as Horowitz finds himself undertaking more than he ever bargained for, especially as the Hawthorne books prove more popular than he ever imagined.

In the first book and subsequent ones, an alternately frustrated, cross, indignant, puzzled, and always self-deprecating Horowitz trails Hawthorne as a sort of bumbling assistant (a very poor Dr Watson to Hawthorne’s surly and enigmatic Holmes) as he discovers next to nothing about the subject of the book he’s supposed to write, but does (sort-of) help solve a crime. In the theatre/film tradition of breaking the “fourth wall” Anthony continually expresses his emotions about his undertaking – and Hawthorne – to the reader. The resultant novels are wonderful.

And so the rest of the series unfolds, that is, until you get to this latest one: Close to Death. Whereas all the others are written in the first person alone, this one alternates between third person PoV and first, and works so well. This is because for the first time, Horowitz gets to explore a cold case from when Hawthorne was in the force. The novel tos and fros between past and present – between the Hawthorne of then and now, as Anthony tries, yet again, to turn a case – one that was never solved – into an exciting narrative with very little co-operation, but plenty of criticism, from one of the main characters. But sometimes, as Horowitz learns, the past is better left buried… especially when there’s a high body count and, slowly, but surely, a picture of just who Daniel Hawthorne really is, begins to emerge…

A fun, but thrilling read that anyone who loves writing, reading and crime would really enjoy.

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