Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Anthony Horowitz has solved some serious crimes as Daniel Hawthorne’s sidekick in A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery series, and in the third book, A Line to Kill, they get embroiled in a murder mystery with a classic setup. The story has Daniel and Anthony staying at guests on an idyllic island off the coast of England for a literary festival, one harbouring a cold-blooded killer ready to set his plan in motion.
Table of contents
Anthony Horowitz Embarks on an Isolated Mystery
No matter how far or wide the murder mystery genre tries to spread its wings, it will likely never be able to reach the pinnacle it launched itself from with the great classics. There is something timelessly comforting about investigations taking place in remote locations around a limited cast of suspects presented from the get-go, and it’s exactly the kind of situation we’re treated to in Anthony Horowitz‘ A Line to Kill.
The third book in A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery series works perfectly as a standalone work, though I do recommend you get acquainted with the first and second books as well, if only for the high-quality mysteries they bring to the table. Additionally, you would get a bit more information about the main characters, but as I said, none of it is required to understand or enjoy this novel.
In any case, the story begins by sending Ex-Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne, along with his author sidekick Anthony Horowitz, to an exclusive literary festival on the secluded island of Alderney, just off the coast of England. Essentially cut off from all civilization, they intend on simply spending a good time there, something which obviously wasn’t meant to happen; the murder-laden British countryside strikes once again.
Quite soon after their arrival, a local person of relative importance is found dead under rather mysterious circumstances, prompting them to involve themselves in this case. As a preventative measure, the island is placed on lock-down, and it quickly becomes all too apparent a murderer is lurking among the guests.
The suspects are a veritable melting pot of remarkable personalities, including a French poet, a television chef, a blind psychic, a historian obsessed with war, and a children’s author, just to name a few. The search for the culprit among them sends the ex-detective and his partner on a journey into the sordid past of the island, seemingly rearing its head and haunting the festival with its restless wails of agony.
The Golden Age Revisited in A Line to Kill
As I mentioned at the very start of the review, there is a unique and timeless quality pertaining specifically to the great classics in the murder mystery genre, what some would label as the golden age of the Whodunit novels. Anthony Horowitz certainly isn’t the first modern author to try and recapture the magic of bygone days in his novels, but in my opinion, he is certainly one of the best at it.
To begin with, his clever idea of writing himself into the story as a sort of Dr. Watson to Daniel Hawthorne’s Sherlock, following him around and chronicling his work for the benefit of mankind. The rapport between the two is often comical in its nature, but one can easily sense the underlying strength of the bond shared between the author and his character. In other words, there is actual chemistry between the two, and as the story goes on the duo starts to feel like a single character.
As far as the setting goes, I don’t think it takes a whole lot of explaining on why it calls back to stories of yesteryear. The remote location and small cast of characters is the kind of set-up I think everyone can enjoy, limiting the nonsense to a minimum and allowing the writer to focus on the development of the investigation more than anything else.
While a few of the twists did have me raising my eyebrows a little, I would say the investigation itself is just a step below the classics of the genre, which just to be clear, is a great compliment. As might be expected, A Line to Kill doesn’t exactly bring anything new to the genre nor does it revamp old concepts. Instead, it simply attempts to offer the best experience possible within the conventions we’ve come to love for their ability to endlessly entertain us.
With this being said, Anthony Horowitz does try and expand the story a little beyond the confines of a small gathering, including a sub-plot about a conflict between locals over the construction of a power line. He connects it to the main plot quite capably and turns into more than just a side distraction, managing to leave a bit of his personal imprint on a story otherwise following the classical beats.
Piecing the Clues of a Grandiose Puzzle
In my opinion, one of the most attractive aspects of Whodunit mysteries is the fact they, more often than not, allow the reader to try and solve the case along with the protagonist(s). We know as much as our investigators at the start of it all, we pick up the clues when they do, and their knowledge of the case seldom exceeds ours.
It is quite difficult to write a mystery where all the clues are present for the reader to see while still being difficult to assemble. Many authors revert to obfuscation and last-second revelations to ensure they “outsmart” the readers in the end, and I was quite glad to see Horowitz took the high road on this one. We get as fair of a shot at solving the mystery as Daniel Hawthorne and his sidekick, and it’ll certainly have you working your grey cells to their full potential.
Without giving too much away, the murder itself is of a locked-room type, which in and of itself presents a fascinating puzzle we are constantly pushed to think about until the answers are finally revealed. When this type of plot is done right it achieves something truly special, forcing the reader to try and unravel the workings of what seems like a magic trick. It’s a premise which hooks me in like few others, and it was handled with all the care I could wish for in A Line to Kill.
Naturally, the cast of suspects is just as important to the story as all the other elements we’ve looked at so far, especially when it’s composed of a limited number of people. At the outset, I admit I was a little skeptical when meeting them for the first time, fearing there would be too much eccentricity going around in a story which would do well to stay grounded to a certain extent.
Thankfully, Horowitz handled them with a lot of care and the first impressions eventually gave way to an interesting examination of their biographies, behaviours and roles in the story. There are plenty of clever little interactions between them and our protagonists, helping to turn them into people we can care about and relate to, rather than just a row of suspects for us to comb through. I’d say it even got the point where my attachment to certain characters made it more difficult to assess their culpability; a great feat of writing on the author’s part.
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The Final Verdict
A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz is a fantastic modern murder mystery beckoning back to the golden age of the Whodunit genre, as well as a worthy addition to A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery series. It delivers a solid mystery full of twists, in an isolated location with an interesting past, as well as a defined cast of well-developed suspects; everything a novel of this genre should be. If you’re looking for a new murder mystery to read and enjoy the structure and feeling of the great classic works of the genre, then this is definitely the novel, and perhaps even the series for you.
Anthony Horowitz is an English author from Stanmore, Middlesex, whose family had the distinction of being of having a history worthy of a novel in and of itself, largely revolving around his father’s mysterious occupation and fortune.
At the age of twenty he began publishing professionally, and has penned numerous bestsellers including The House of Silk, Stormbreaker, Moriarty and Magpie Murders.