One thing you can say about horowitz, he certainly likes to base his mysteries around a Catchy Idea. In this book, he’s written himself into the story, biographical details and all, but because I’m not a horowitz Fan, versed in his history and genre, I found it more distracting than intriguing. It left me wondering how much was fact, how much fiction, how much autobiography and how much artistic license. Perhaps this is part of his intention; an odd genre mash-up of mystery, memoir, fiction, and craft advice.
There’s no doubt, Horowitz is a highly competent writer whose skill is far above the workmanship level of the normal thriller. Written in first person, in his role as himself, I enjoyed the bits of writing craft he discusses with the detective, Hawthorne, as when he tries to explain that saying ‘a bell rang’ when a door is opened is mental short-hand for the reader/viewer to think of an old-fashioned kind of establishment. At times, however, he becomes quite intrusive into the story; less of a Doctor Watson/Arthur Hastings than perhaps Dr. Sheppard (Murder of Dr. Ackroyd).
“It’s easy for me to remember the evening that Diana Cowper was killed. I was celebrating with my wife: dinner at Moro in Exmouth Market and quite a lot to drink. That afternoon I had pressed the Send button on my computer, emailing my new novel to the publishers, putting eight months’ work behind me.” (from Chapter Two, ‘Hawthorne’)
Part of the trouble, perhaps, is that the characters were drawn well enough to be not particularly likable, but not well enough to be redeemable. We both thought the mystery wasn’t that compelling; I mean, it was interesting enough, as was Tony’s reaction to it, but perhaps because the pace of solving the crime kept getting interrupted by personal issues and digressions (Tony’s Hollywood meetings, his obsession with finding out more about Hawthorne), it didn’t feel like a race to finish, even after More Stuff started happening.
And that ending. Oh, that ending drove me bonkers, because it relied on one of the worst genre tropes–tv tropes–there is. We also end with not learning much about Hawthorne, for all Tony’s attempts at ‘investigation,’ but we do know too much more about Tony. I will give him credit; he was willing to allow himself to be perceived as an insecure and obtuse person. Dr. Watson indeed.
This was the second of a buddy read with Dan 2.Ω and one where we both had hopes of success. We had read Magpie Murders with good results and saw some fair ratings on this as well. Overall, I’d say it scores above House of Suns for far better writing and better characterization… although I can’t say that I liked the characters any more. The mystery was originally moderately acceptable in the microscopic analysis, although in the larger psychoanalysis, I’m not sure it holds. Horowitz is a better writer, so this was far easier to get through, with many scenes that were easy to visualize.
Two and a half stars, rounding down for that ending.