TWO REVIEWS, TWO QUESTIONS: Part Two

“’There’s a bloody footprint out on the terrace, if you care to take a look. It might give you a shoe size. I’d say the killer left down the fire escape into the alley, so perhaps you’ll catch him on CCTV. But we didn’t see anything. We got here too late.’

“’All right, then. You can get lost. And take Agatha Christie here with you.’

“He meant me. Agatha Christie is something of a hero of mine but I was still offended.”

from The Word Is Murder

Here is the second question:  Why isn’t Anthony Horowitz writing the new Poirot novels?

If you read my previous post, you know that we are not here to discuss whether or not the “new” Poirot should be continued at all. He’s here, he’s drear, get used to it! But if we are going to be, er, treated to new adventures, is there somebody better equipped than Sophie Hannah to write them? You bet there is!

Here are the five reasons Anthony Horowitz should write the new Poirot novels:

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One:  Just look at Horowitz’ curriculum vitae, which includes writing for Poirot himself!

Anthony Horowitz was born eight months before me, making him wise enough to do anything. He discovered at the age of eight that he wanted to be a writer. He published his first novel at the age of twenty-four, and he never looked back. He wrote eleven episodes of Poirot, (mostly adaptations of the short stories, but also four novels, including a fine adaptation of Lord Edgware Dies and a problematic one of Evil Under the Sun), a half dozen episodes of Midsomer Murders (the marvelous debut episode, some of the best early ones, and Tom Barnaby’s exit episode in Season 13), and he created and wrote Foyle’s War, arguably one of the best period mystery series ever produced.

He was commissioned by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle to write two authorized new adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The House of Silk (2011) and Moriarty (2014), and by the estate of Ian Fleming to continue the James Bond novels (2015’s Trigger Mortis and 2018’s Forever and a Day.)  Best of all, Anthony has spent his entire career introducing young people to the mystery and espionage genres through his series of novels about kid spy Alex Ryder and the Diamond Brothers (Tim, the world’s worst detective, and his smarter younger brother Nick).

If you need further proof that Horowitz can cleverly render the tropes of classic detective fiction, you need look no further than two adult mysteries by the author: Magpie Murders(2016) and The Word Is Murder(2017).

I’ve written about Magpie Murders here. At this moment, in retrospect, I’m even more certain that it is a marvelous beast of a book, a combination of classic mystery and meta-fiction. Here you get two whodunits in one: a procedural featuring a modern-day flawed heroine investigating the mysterious death of a successful mystery writer, and, folded into the modern text, the manuscript for the dead writer’s final novel, a Silver Age detective story featuring a Poirot-like sleuth named Atticus Pund. Not only did Horowitz fashion two fair play mysteries in one, his complex parallels between his version of “real life” and the novel’s fictional-world-within-a-fictional-world provided wonderful insight into the writing and publishing process.

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Two: Like Christie, whom he reveres, Horowitz knows how to hook in the reader and to create a memorable sleuth.

Admittedly, I love meta-fiction, and it might be that I am endowing Horowitz with a gift that works only with these two novels (the only work of his that I have read). But, oh, he does it so well!

With The Word Is Murder, Horowitz doubles down on the meta-world by making his fictional narrator a successful author named . . . Anthony Horowitz! I love how he blends in true details about his life with the fictional. I feel like I have a handle on how a successful writer works: even if I can’t be sure that everything I’m told is historically accurate, enough of it is that I can enjoy the blur between fiction and fact. I also love that Horowitz does not go the Ellery Queen route by making himself, a mystery writer, the detective. Instead, he undercuts the egocentric element of autobiography by casting himself as the Watson, with all the inherent virtues and flaws that archetypal character generates.

The hook here is that Horowitz (the character) has written a TV show called Injustice(a real series which I haven’t even heard of), during the course of which he consulted with a former detective inspector for the Met named Daniel Hawthorne. Hawthorne approaches Horowitz with the idea of having the author write a book about him. He invites Horowitz to trail along as he investigates the murder of Diana Cowper, a wealthy woman who just hours before her death walked into a funeral parlor and planned her own funeral.

In Magpie Murders, Horowitz demonstrated his ability to create a classic detective. Atticus Pund is endowed with all the tics and eccentricities of a Golden Age hero. The novel we are reading is Pund’s final case, but we are treated to delicious glimpses of the other books that featured Pund. What fun Horowitz must have had inventing the history of a fictitious fictitious character!

Although he emerges from the modern age of tough, troubled detectives, Daniel Hawthorne is cut from the same cloth as any other full-blown sleuth. (Luckily for us, Horowitz plans a ten-book series centered around Hawthorne; the second installment, The Sentence is Death, is coming out this fall.) Hawthorne has issues, to say the least, – he’s anti-social, prone to violence, and viciously homophobic – but he also possesses a Holmesian ability to identify and interpret clues. There are layers to Hawthorne, and Horowitz is careful to hold onto some secrets for future installments.

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The most delicious aspect of this book is the relationship between this rumpled Holmes and his Watson. They don’t particularly like each other, and both chafe at the role that the other insists he take. Hawthorne wants a book about himself, but he doesn’t want to reveal himself to his scribe, nor is he willing to let Horowitz exercise his own process as a writer. The author, in turn, doesn’t like the silent, subservient witness to the investigation that Hawthorne expects him to be. He’s smart, he certainly has proven with his writing that he understands mysteries, and he wants to contribute.

It’s a tribute to Horowitz that he can show that both men are right: Hawthorne makes a troublesome subject for a book (there’s a nice section where Horowitz ponders allowing a character in one of his books be both homophobic anda hero), and Horowitz in turn is a typical Watson, plunging in at awkward moments and generally getting things wrong.

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Three: Horowitz knows his mysteries, and he shares many of Christie’s literary gifts: a facility for plotting, a deft rendering, in economical strokes, of character and place, and a smart way with dialogue.

In an interview, this is what Horowitz had to say about the genre:

“ . . . for me the pleasure of a whodunit is in how everything is stitched together in exactly the right way, the clues are in the right place and in front of your eyes, even if you don’t see them. The character motivations work. Whodunits more than any kinds of writing I can think of have a very, very deeply set pattern to them, and you’ve got to get that pattern right, you have to find the shape of it and get the structure right before you can make it work. After that, it’s a case of finding the characters and entertaining situations.”

If I had to rate my enjoyment of the mystery in The Word Is Murder, I’d place it between the period mystery of Magpie Murders and that same novel’s modern mystery. Word is a bit more procedural, as it follows Hawthorne and Horowitz chasing one lead after another down paths that take them to further leads or to dead ends. I will say this: I spotted the clues and solved both mysteries in Magpie, but here I was pretty much at a loss. That has something to do with the structure of the case: it doesn’t necessarily play as fair as Magpie did. Given my enjoyment of the novel as a whole, that didn’t necessarily bother me as much.

However, I will say this about Horowitz: he earns his stripes at the end. His denouements are fitting culminations of all that went before.

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Four: After reading Hannah’s three Poirot novels, I can’t stop thinking of how much more fun I would have had if Horowitz had written them!

Some of the scenes in Word are so rich and funny that I could quite easily picture this becoming a movie. From major set pieces like the victim’s funeral, where so much goes wrong, to this marvelous meta-scene where Horowitz takes a meeting with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson over a proposed sequel to the movie Tintin– a hilarious idea in itself – only to have Hawthorne invade the meeting with disastrous results, these scenes spring to life off the page.

Imagine Horowitz getting his hands on the draft of The Mystery of Three Quarters. Well, that’s actually harder to do than I thought, since I figure he would jettison most of the plot. Here’s what I know for sure we would have, however, in Horowitz’ hands:

  1. A Poirot who is Poirot!
  2. No Edward Catchpool – or at least nothing resembling the current mess of a character he is.
  3. The sense of time and place that Hannah seems determined to omit or ignore.
  4. An ability to weave clues into seemingly innocent conversations.
  5. A fitting and fun final solution.

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Five: Despite the fact that I know Horowitz can’t and/or won’t be writing a Christie novel anytime soon, I still want him to.

Granted that Horowitz doesn’t need the gig. He is doing just fine coming up with his own GAD-style novels, and I for one am thrilled that we have a whole passel of Hawthorne mysteries to look forward to in the future. Many would argue that this is what modern writers should be doing anyway – celebrating the classic tropes of GAD fiction with an original, modern eye. I’m starting to believe anyway that the re-introduction of Poirot through Hannah’s writing is a cynical ploy to both hook modern audiences who may balk at reading anyone who is older than 50 and/or dead and a blatant attempt to wrest the control of the Christie name back from the public domain to which it is heading in 2020.

During a discussion on this very topic on Facebook, Curtis Evans suggested that the hiring of Hannah might have had something to do with having an established female author take on the mantle of one of the most successful female authors of all time. I understand his point, but in the course of the same discussion – and halfway through my writing of this post – someone threw out Horowitz’ name. The general consensus of my Facebook friends was that he would be a fine choice for the job.

I couldn’t agree more.

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6 thoughts on “TWO REVIEWS, TWO QUESTIONS: Part Two

  1. You make a good argument, Brad, for Horowitz. I am a cranky, irascible, stick-in-the-mud purist who doesn’t think Poirot should have been continued at all. But that said, Horowitz is very talented, and I can see your points.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with your choice. In fact, I mentioned Anthony Horowitz in the comments in the previous post. (I mentioned 2 other names !)

    Like

  3. I must admit to a crime.
    I have never read Anthony Horowitz’s adult mystery novels. Thankfully, your post has spurned me to borrow The Magpie Murders from my local library and I will be looking at it in a while.
    Many Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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