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A LINE TO KILL
by Anthony Horowitz
HarperCollins, October 2021
375 pages
$27.99
ISBN: 0062938169


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

A LINE TO KILL is the third novel in Anthony Horowitz's Daniel Hawthorne mystery series, or, rather, in his Hawthorne and Horowitz series: the narrator of the series is Horowitz, who documents the disgraced former London detective Daniel Hawthorne's adventures in search of criminals and cash. The series is designed as an attempt to subvert customs of the mystery genre, as Horowitz explained to US National Public Radio in 2017 when the series debut, THE WORD IS MURDER, was published.

A lot of recognizable conventions, particularly of the Sherlock Holmes tradition, remain perfectly intact. For instance, like Dr. Watson, Horowitz-the-character narrates Hawthorne's adventures, tags along with him, keeps his (Horowitz's) personal life and pre-Hawthorne history offstage, and, most importantly, doesn't know the solution to the mystery nor pick up on clues as easily as Hawthorne does. A LINE TO KILL therefore treads quite familiar territory within the crime fiction genre, but it's still a deeply engaging, well-paced mystery with plenty of social satire, particularly of small-town politics and, like Horowitz's Susan Ryland series, the book publishing industry.

In A LINE TO KILL, Horowitz follows Hawthorne to a literary festival on a Channel Island of zero cultural interest to anyone except the local obsessive historian who has documented the Nazi labor camp mass murder (yes, this really happened in the British territories of the Channel Islands) with no discernible sense of outrage. The island's major business is the headquartering of an online casino, managed by a pretentious sexual predator who has a love nest in a renovated Nazi gunnery. The other stars of the literary festival look like the dregs of the Cheltenham literary festival on a much lower budget: a chef that combines the worst personal and artistic aspects of Jamie Oliver and Paula Deen; a psychic with an uplifting personal story; a children's book author whose books sound liable to make the reader detest both children and books; and a poet famous for recovering an extremely endangered language who does not, of course, perform in that language. The island is a locked room, so someone has got to die, someone has got to have killed them, and Hawthorne must find out who those people are, so Horowitz can write it up as a lucrative novel.

The title has nothing to do with John Grisham's popular classic A TIME TO KILL. The line in question isn't a line from a book, either, but an internet cable project that, if accepted by the island's people, would benefit the British and French mainlands probably more than them and would eviscerate neglected evidence of Nazi genocide in the British isles. Horowitz alludes to this without spelling out its full implications, but this is a kind of honesty because the crass Hawthorne doesn't care about the island, its people, history, or even justice, and Horowitz has condemned himself to focus on Hawthorne's thoughts, actions, and concerns. These tensions drive the emotional suspense of what otherwise would be a fairly formulaic neo-Sherlockian mystery.

A LINE TO KILL is well worth reading, and I look forward to Horowitz and Hawthorne's next adventure. Now that this series is well established, I hope that in that next adventure, Horowitz the author--not just Horowitz the Watson stand-in--takes some greater risks.

Rebecca Nesvet is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay and co-edits Reviewing the Evidence.

Reviewed by Rebecca Nesvet, November 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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