Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Having read almost every detective yarn Agatha Christie ever wrote and followed Poirot with some dismay and Miss Jane Marple with delight, I was thrilled to discover Anthony Horowitz’s new book. This man is a legend in Television Land where he is the undisputed king of both the Midsomer Murders and the Foyle’s War scriptwriters. I guess it was inevitable that he would try his hand at novel writing. I had come relatively late to Ian Rankin and Robert Harris, and here these men were heaping praise on the newcomer. I had to read this book – I had to.
My first experience with the writer’s style felt as though I was wearing an old, comfortable set of slippers. I could soak up the opening of a typical Midsomer series of events, each beautifully crafted and intricately webbed with other happenings as the script unrolled. The editor, Susan, is reading one of the books she loves by an author she loathes. But the story takes over and we forget about Susan. Here is just the story. There was a moment or two of disquiet at this point but the work was so beautifully written that I chose to ignore my qualms. The sameness about this book and the many openings I’d watched glued to Foyles War were pleasant and easily accommodated. Yet there was something that refused to stop irritating me.
The introduction of Atticus Pűnd and James Fraser to the story began the identification of what bothered me. Here were Hercule Poirot and Captain Hastings of Agatha Christie fame. Once alerted to the fact that Horowitz was engaged in presenting his story using not only closely-aligned scenes from television that he himself had written but taking over the characters that other writers had created, I was left bemused and somewhat annoyed. Not content with taking over Poirot and Hastings, the author introduced characters that a Christie aficionado would quickly recognise. Ronnie Pye was an effeminate little man in a Christie story. There is a Sir Magnus Pye in Magpie Murders who is brash, loud and forbidding. But there is also a meek individual who fits the Christie “Pye” model, just as Sir Magnus Pye reflects the character of Colonel Bantry of Body in the Library fame.
James Fraser is the same gullible, impossibly dull individual as Arthur Hastings in a Christie novel. Nobody asks Poirot why he and Hastings are such friends, because Poirot keeps reminding us that Hastings makes him think along lines he might not otherwise have pursued. Atticus Pűnd makes similar noises when he explains that, while Fraser is of no help in solving crimes he likes to have him along to trigger Pűnd’s best work. That Horowitz’s hero can state confidently that, the moment he has one significant piece of information he will have the case closed, is a complete snatch from almost any Poirot story.
To sum up: we have a novelist reworking the scripts he had written for television, while mis-matching the characters’ names from one source to fit other personalities in the novel he is in the process of publishing. Is this a reprehensible thing to do?
Possibly it is but…there is always a ‘but’ with Horowitz. There is a wonderful twist to the story. Susan, the editor who has been reading the story, discovers there is no ending. Then she discovers that the author has died (or has he?) Now the real Horowitz has stood up for, when Susan tries to discover how the story was meant to develop, she discovers curious parallels with the real life of the mysterious author. Susan undoubtedly surprises herself because she becomes a gifted sleuth.
A mystery within a mystery? Well, when has Horowitz written any other kind? This is a mature, insightful and sensible story that never loses touch with reality no matter what apparent wackiness is going on. Keep the faith, brethren. Horowitz never lets you down.
(2016) although one source claims it was published on January 1, 2011
By Anthony Horowitz
Orion and Hachette UK
ISBN: 978 14091 5837 0
304pp GBP 13.99