Close to Death: A Novel (A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, 5)

Image of Close to Death: A Novel (A Hawthorne and Horowitz Mystery, 5)
Release Date: 
April 16, 2024
Reviewed by: 

Close to Death, the fifth outing for D.I. Daniel Hawthorne and the author, Anthony Horowitz, will hit the sweet spot for lovers of Horowitz’s prodigious fictional work and those who adore his superb BBC film series, Midsomer Murders (first seven episodes), Foyle’s War, and Magpie Murders. In addition to charm and dark humor, this outing in a gated community near the Thames is also a metafiction, with the author playing a role in the mystery, though he enters five years after the murder takes place.

The novel begins by setting the scene at Riverview Close (“close” having dual meanings in the title, i.e. near to death, but also the “close” as in an enclosed community) and by introducing the cast of characters, each of whom develops a powerful animosity to Giles Kenworthy, the new neighbor from hell, who tramples on the dignified, quiet residents and their properties with both proverbial feet (his out-of-control children and their skateboards assist in the mayhem). The reader will cringe in sympathy with the dentist, doctor, barrister, chess grandmaster, two elderly ladies, and three wives who want Kenworthy gone. Yes. That kind of gone.

Then Anthony Horowitz appears. His publisher is urging him to create a new mystery, so, desperate for material that he can turn into fiction, he begs D.I. Hawthorne for suggestions, as he has done in previous novels. Hawthorne, who is retired from the force, was hired as a consultant by D.S. Tariq Khan at the time the murder occurred and brought along his sidekick, John Dudley. In the “present,” he gives Horowitz the casefile—though not all of it—so the author can begin writing. However, without the conclusion, Horowitz doesn’t know the identity of the killer or even if more than one person is the perpetrator. Hence, both Horowitz and the reader must wend their way through events, searching for hints as to what happened.

Although the death took place in the past, this main story is woven throughout, creating a fascinating triple structure: the murder itself, the murder as investigated by Hawthorne, Dudley, and D.S. Khan at the time, and the later involvement by Horowitz, who is “writing” the novel, and interacting with Hawthorne and Dudley.

As Horowitz writes, “there’s more to a novel—even a crime novel—than violent death. It’s all about character and atmosphere and language.” And Close to Death renders all three with aplomb. In particular, characters are observed with droll sparkle. The chess grandmaster has “a triangle of beard that sat rather too precisely on his chin . . . Appearances evidently mattered to him, from his well-oiled hair to his shoes, both of which gleamed.” The French bulldog, Ellery, “was a small, bulky creative who only took on the shape of a dog when he was walking.” Or Lady Barraclough: “She had the sort of self-awareness that suggested she might once have been beautiful, that heads would have turned as she entered the room—but that had been another room and a long time ago.” Brilliant!

The interlocking plot units that rotate from the events at Riverview Close to the later investigation narrated by Horowitz are deftly interspersed and provide the reader with an array of clues that are revealed at various times. Whenever the author makes an appearance, he often reveals his own incorrect whodunnit guesses. This bit of authorial fun provides a glimpse into a writer’s mind and also adds conjectures for the reader to consider. At one point, Horowitz, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek, quips: “And there I was standing in my own book!”

While Close to Death intentionally veers near to the Agatha Christie plot in Murder on the Orient Express, Anthony Horowitz has devised his own twisted tale and turns the closed-circle mystery inside out.

Will these five Hawthorne and Horowitz books be translated into a BBC film series? Let’s hope they are already under contract.