Anthony Horowitz on ‘A Line to Kill’: ‘Turning everything on its head’

The author says by inserting himself as the sidekick and chronicler in the Daniel Hawthorne series, instead of being the cleverest person in the book, he would now be the one who knows nothing

January 27, 2022 10:30 am | Updated January 29, 2022 05:57 pm IST

Speaking to Anthony Horowitz invariably involves looking ahead. Last time when we spoke for Moonflower Murders , we were also speaking of the third book in his Daniel Hawthorne series. And now as we talk of the third book, A Line to Kill (Penguin Random House) we are also talking about the third James Bond novel Horowitz has been commissioned to write by the Ian Fleming estate.

The Hawthorne series features a disgraced police detective-turned-consultant, Hawthorne, with a fictionalised version of Horowitz as his sidekick and chronicler. “When my publishers asked me to do a detective series, I started to think about what I could do that was original, and had never been done before,” says Horowitz over video call from London.

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“My first thought was, is the detective British or from another country, man or woman? What is the ethnicity, sexuality, marital status? Does he have problems? Does she want to be something different? Is she a robot, vampire, spaceman or ghost?”

From many angles

Realising all these permutations had been done, Horowitz began to wonder what would make his series different.

“I started to think about the relationship between the detective and his sidekick and had this sudden flash of inspiration. If I was a sidekick in the book, it would turn everything on its head because suddenly instead of being the cleverest person in the book, the author who knows everything, I would know nothing. I would be at the mercy of my detective. If my detective did not solve the crime, I would not have a book.”

The 66-year-old author says this allowed him to have enormous fun with the genre. “At the same time, I hope I was giving the audience all the pleasure of a whodunit, the clues, the suspects, the red herrings and the surprise of the ending.”

Anatomy of a whodunit

There was no danger that the book would come out like an ego trip, says Horowitz. “At the end of the day, I’m only the narrator, not the main character. You do not learn a great deal about me in the book. The book is about Hawthorne, and me writing about Hawthorne. What it does allow me to do as a writer, is to write about the nature of a whodunit.”

Islands make for popular settings for whodunits from Agatha Christie’s And Then There were None to PD James’ Skull Beneath the Skin . “There is also The Decagon House Murders by Yukito Ayatsuji.” Choosing to set A Line to Kill on an island was a coincidence, says Horowitz.

“I was invited to Alderney in the Channel Islands three years ago to a literary festival. I loved the island. It is tiny, three miles long, and a peculiar place with all these caves, tunnels, wonderful little beaches and slightly old-fashioned-looking blue telephone boxes. The moment I arrived, I thought, wow, this is a perfect setting for a murder mystery.”

For the love of letters

The literary festival is described in loving detail in the book. “I love literary festivals. They are the one thing I have missed the most during the time of COVID-19. There is something wonderful about people coming together for the love of reading and books. The Jaipur Literature Festival is one of my favourites. I was amazed that thousands of people come to this city out of love for literature and books. There is something wonderfully civilised about it. In a world where there is so much discord, concern, worry and fear, and where politics seem to be out of control, it is heartening that there are people who want to come together to talk about stories.

There is a running joke about titles in the novels with Hawthorne suggesting ‘Hawthorne Investigates’, and dismissing The Word is Murder as “too poncy”. “I am trying for a literary twist to the titles. The first was The Word is Murder and the second The Sentence is Death . I have painted myself into a corner because you run out of grammatical phrases for a murder story, so perhaps it was a mistake to keep trying to make some kind of allusion to writing.”

The series is good for 10 books, Horowitz says. “At the end of the tenth book, we find out what makes Hawthorne such a difficult and contrary human being. We find out what happened to him as a boy that changed his life.”

There is a meeting with the publishers in the beginning of A Line to Kill . “I am careful about who I put into my books. Some people are real. I do change names and make a composite out of the different characters. I do not want to be making in-jokes. These books are not just for my friends but for my readers. What was quite funny is that everybody in Penguin Random House thinks they are in the book!”

Neither easy nor difficult

Horowitz writes in different genres, from YA with Alex Rider and The Diamond Brothers to the Sherlock Holmes and James Bond continuation novels apart from whodunits and horror. Horowitz says he prefers not to use words such as easy and difficult when describing writing.

“Writing is never difficult for me. James Bond is perhaps the biggest challenge to write because I’m working in the shadow of Ian Fleming and there is so much research to do to get it right and to get the correct tone of voice. I find the process of writing one of immersion and absorption.”

Insisting he loves all his writing, Horowitz admits a partiality for the Alex Rider books, which has helped a whole generation find literature, books and reading.

On the television front Horowitz says, Magpie Murders has been adapted into a six-episode series with Lesley Manville as the editor Susan Ryeland and Tim McMullan as Atticus Pünd, the detective in the book within the book. The Full Monty director, Peter Cattaneo, helms the show.

“Lesley is absolutely wonderful and Cattaneo is one of the most brilliant directors I’ve worked with.”

Alex Rider is now in its second season based on Eagle Strike adapted by Guy Burt with Otto Farrant returning to play the titular character. There is also Toby Stevens playing the chief antagonist. “I know the first season was popular in India.”

Forever Bond

With a Mind to Kill , Horowitz’s new James Bond novel, is expected in May 2022. “I cannot give anything away because they will be unhappy with me ( laughs ). I will say I was thrilled to be asked to return for the third time. This book is part of a trilogy following Trigger Mortis (2015) and Forever and a Day (2018). It is a quieter book compared to the other two.”

Reconciling Bond’s attitudes to today calls for acknowledging the original books by Ian Fleming were written in the ‘50s. “That was how things were then. You have to put the books in their historical context. If you are offended by them, do not read them. I still think that they are great books, very much of their time.”

Also Read | Goodbye, Daniel Craig: How the actor became bigger than the character James Bond

The sequence at the end of Live and Let Die (1954) when Bond is dragged over the coral reef is brilliant, says Horowitz.

“The beginning of the novel, when Bond is captured and Mr Big’s henchman, Teehee, breaks Bond’s finger, makes me sweat when I read it. There are, however, parts of the book which I would not write myself, which we would feel uncomfortable reading.” Horowitz says he sees no need to prune out the uncomfortable bits from the legacy sequel as it is not the way he thinks.

“It would never even come to my mind. There is so much in the Bond world, which is so great and so wonderful. Let us celebrate that.”

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