Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Anthony Horowitz has decided to take us back to a simpler time for straightforward murder mysteries with his Detective Daniel Hawthorne series, with the second book having seen the light of day recently, titled The Sentence is Death. In it, we follow the detective on another curious case, this time involving the murder of a celebrity-divorce lawyer, Richard Pryce, via a bottle of wine worth three thousand pounds.
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Anthony Horowitz Continues Hawthorne’s Saga
As much as there is a time and place for books which delve deep into misunderstood philosophies and our over-examined social conventions, there is also very much a place for a more blunt type of literature, one which doesn’t seek to do particularly anything other than entertaining.
Murder is a horrible and disgraceful thing, but with us being such experts in morbid humour, we’ve managed to turn it into a prime subject for entertainment which has likely been examined from every possible angle. Nevertheless, the mystery surrounding murder hasn’t lost its charm in the realms of fiction, as is evident by Anthony Horowitz‘ The Sentence is Death, the second entry in the Detective Daniel Hawthorne series.
After having solved their first case, Daniel and his sidekick Anthony have begun to develop somewhat of a reputation in their field, with the private detective agency finally starting to really come into its own. As fortune would have it, a most interesting case is about to fall into their laps courtesy of the police force themselves, stumped by a lack of clues, leads, and general competence.
The case itself revolves around a celebrity-divorce lawyer, Richard Pryce, found bludgeoned to death in his bachelor pad. The murder weapon? A bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite, a wine worth over three thousand pounds, especially odd since the victim didn’t drink.
To obscure matters further, a three-digit number was left painted on the wall by the killer. By virtue of his profession, Pryce had far too many enemies to examine one by one, but Hawthorne and Anthony will have to find a way to sift through them all and figure out which celebrity scumbag it was in the end.
A Familiar Comfort in The Sentence is Death
I certainly can’t speak for everyone on this matter, but I personally find there to be something uniquely comforting about solid whodunit mysteries where the author chooses to stay within the confines of the genre to try and perfect what they already know.
While I can certainly enjoy novels which take chances and experiment with concepts and techniques, The Sentence is Death brought me back to the nostalgia of Agatha Christie and Conan Doyle novels, where the bulk of the pleasure lies in simply watching the detective unfold the investigative thread and cracking the self-contained puzzle.
This was a woman who didn’t just go to bed with a book. She went to bed with a library.― Anthony Horowitz, The Sentence Is Death
Looking at the mystery itself and the way in which it unfolds, I find The Sentence is Death to be simply beyond reproach, at least of the reasonable kind. From the get-go we are always clear on what the mystery is, what stage we are at, how it’s evolving, and where we might potentially end up in the future.
Horowitz balances discovery with additional mystery very well, and I believe he struck a very happy medium between giving us questions and answers. While at the moment I find it a bit difficult to appraise how much of this mystery the reader can realistically hope to solve by themselves, it really does seem to me we are given all the necessary clues to assemble the big picture, but not without a good amount of effort.
I will admit there were moments where I feared the plot was doomed to becoming predictable, but Horowitz showed his genius by using said moments to subvert my expectations. If there is one major compliment I can give to the mystery, it’s how it consistently managed to misdirect me and pull in the opposite directions of what I was expecting.
This alone played a very important role in keeping me captivated from start to finish, as if I was in a competition with the book itself, constantly challenged to try and predict its next move. In my opinion, any murder mystery capable of engaging the reader in this much thought deserves a good deal of praise.
The Decorations Make the Stage
The meat and potatoes of the book is quite obviously what I’ve just discussed above, but it is by no means the sole element holding things together. Rather, it’s the central support column around which plenty of interesting extensions are being built.
For starters, we do meet an extensive cast of characters, and though many of them end up being minor and not completely developed, they are depicted in an engaging enough manner to draw our curiosity; some have strange manners, others are comedians, without forgetting those who always have something to hide.
If each word was a tapestry, it had been spun out of razor wire.― Anthony Horowitz, The Sentence Is Death
Apart from the myriad of suspects we have to try and sort through, we are also given more and more glimpses into detective Hawthorne’s inner world, in addition to which he is also pursuing a second mystery of his own accord.
While at first he did come across as a bit dubious with his eccentric and forcefully-mysterious manners, with time he grew on me, especially with his lack of political correctness. Horowitz never over-does it with the humour, generally keeping it subtle, intelligent and original.
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Finally, I don’t think it’s possible to complete a review of this book without speaking of Hawthorne’s sidekick Anthony, the author’s way of writing a fictional version of himself into his own books. While I personally have no idea how similar the character might be to the real person, he brings a good dose of lightheartedness to the book, never shying away from poking fun at himself and what I would assume are some of his habits from the real world.
He even takes some opportunities to comment on the events, characters and mystery less as his character, and more as the author of the book… and I think it’s always rather interesting to see what writers think of their own works.
The Final Verdict
The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz is an excellent second novel for the Detective Daniel Hawthorne series and is at the very least as good as the first one. If you’re looking for a solid whodunit murder mystery with a more classical flair to it, coloured by a wide cast of characters and some good intelligent humour, then you certainly can’t go wrong with this novel.
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.