Book review: The Sentence is Death

The second book in the modern-day Sherlock Holmes series by Anthony Horowitz is no regulation mystery


The Sentence is Death By Anthony Horowitz
Century, £20

A leading divorce lawyer is messily murdered in his Hampstead home, bludgeoned with a bottle of vintage wine.

The police are baffled, so they call in Daniel Hawthorne, the brilliant “consulting detective” Scotland Yard turns to whenever it has a “sticker” — a case it can’t solve.

Sound familiar? Yes, Hawthorne is a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, with the same formidable powers of deduction and the same empathy deficit.

He should be the star of Anthony Horowitz’s whodunit — the second in a series — but he is overshadowed by… Anthony Horowitz himself. The author takes centre-stage as a Dr Watson-style narrator who trails Hawthorne in order to write a book about the investigation.

This fictional Horowitz and the real-life Horowitz overlap almost completely, except fictional Anthony doesn’t have a clue who murdered the lawyer. When presented with five suspects, he manages to narrow it down to six. But his presence turns a regulation mystery into something smart and knowing.

The device allows the author to conduct a running commentary on the process of writing the story, while poking fun at himself. Horowitz is perhaps best known as the creator of the Alex Rider children’s books, yet, in a running gag, no one can remember his hero’s name. He also takes aim at the world of literary fiction. One of the suspects is a pretentious Japanese author who pens worthy, prize-winning novels and accuses our author hero of being the worst thing imaginable — “a commercial writer”.

Horowitz’s wife, agent and editor all crop up as characters, along with others who weren’t so happy to appear — it seems at least one person threatened legal action over her depiction. References to Holmes and his creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, are sprinkled throughout the book but Hawthorne never quite convinces as a latter-day Sherlock.

The great detective had his dark side but there was never any doubt about his loyalty to Watson. Hawthorne appears to value Horowitz as little more than a means to raise his profile.

But then this mystery solver is a bit of a mystery himself. We don’t know an awful lot about him, other than he left his job as a police detective under a cloud, has an unpleasant tendency towards homophobia, and enjoys making model airplanes in his spare time.

Oh, and in his past, he may have experienced a trauma in Yorkshire. Perhaps all will be revealed in the promised third book. I look forward to it.


Alan Montague is a freelance reviewer. Anthony Horowitz will be speaking at Jewish Book Week on March 7.


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