I was a touch disappointed in Anthony Horowitz’s last Hawthorne mystery, so I started The Twist of a Knife with my expectations tempered. I love Horowitz’s two Atticus Pünd novels (Magpie Murders and Moonflower Murders), and I suspect I’ve been judging the Hawthorne series a little too harshly because of that. I still enjoy them, though, for what they are: light-hearted, fun mysteries that read like episodes of your favorite murder-of-the-week television series.
The Twist of the Knife is an entertaining installment. When the novel opens, Horowitz has decided he’s had enough of writing about Hawthorne. He’s fulfilled his three-book contract and it’s time for him to move on to other things. Obviously, this hasn’t worked out, because we’re reading a fourth installment, and it doesn’t take a detective to work out that more are in our future. (By the last page, we are promised at least three more.)
So what brings our friend Anthony back to Horowitz? Murder, of course, except this time, Anthony is the suspect. Having pursued the production of a stage play called Mindgame that he’s written, Anthony is devastated to receive an absolutely scathing review from Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby. Throsby has been known to make or break shows, plus she’s a characteristically nasty person, so it’s no shock that she ends up with a knife in her heart pretty quickly. Although much of the criticism is directed at the play’s author, the rest of the cast are also treated brutally in Throsby’s column. Nevertheless, between Anthony’s fingerprints on the knife, cast members’ assertions that he was angry at Throsby, and a variety of other circumstantial evidence, the reader has to wonder if maybe our author isn’t the murderer after all (not really, fictional Anthony is such a harmless dolt, he wouldn’t know where to begin and he’d leave a lot more clues than fingerprints).
The supporting characters comprise the usual potential suspects: Throsby’s husband and daughter, who don’t seem to have liked her much; the celebrated leading actor, who might have a skeleton or two in his closet; the up-and-coming star looking to break into Hollywood; the secretive leading lady who first discovers the negative review; the stage manager, who sits outside the periphery of the main players just enough to be suspicious. After letting Anthony sweat a bit, Hawthorne comes to his aid and starts investigating, to the vexation of Detective Inspector Cara Grunshaw and Detective Constable Derek Mills, some old police nemeses from The Sentence is Death. Hawthorne resists mocking police stupidity for most of the novel, but I enjoyed one laugh-loud-moment when the pieces finally fall into place for the inspectors (“Well done, Cara! You got there in the end.”).
As always, Horowitz blends bits of reality into his fiction, so that I’m never quite sure which is which until I start googling (after I’ve finished, of course, to avoid spoilers). I was surprised that the two Horowitz plays mentioned in the novel–Mindgame and the short play called A Handbag—are real plays. Mindgame is a Deathtrap-esque thriller that employs a limited cast, while A Handbag is about a group of youths performing The Importance of Being Earnest. Both seem intriguing, though I’ve gone and spoiled the surprises by reading up on them. Horowitz doubles down on this blending of reality and fiction by carrying it into the book’s Acknowledgments page, which tickled me.
I’ve often noted that Horowitz is fair with his readers and leaves plenty of clues for us to pick up, and The Twist of a Knife is no exception. I may not have put together all the pieces of the puzzle, but I did latch on to one specific clue that pointed to the murderer, mainly because I’ve read many of Horowitz’s novels and I’ve learned where he hides his hints. In one sense, I like that I’m in on the surprise; in another, I wish I could be completely hoodwinked. At any rate, I’ll keep reading the Horowitz-Hawthorne adventures, at least until Horowitz finds a way to give me another Atticus Pünd.