Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz

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Close to Death by Anthony Horowitz front cover

Giles Kenworthy is: A) a hedge fund manager, B) belittling to everyone with whom he speaks, C) a supporter of a far right political party, D) rude and antagonistic to all the neighbours on Riverview Close in Richmond on Thames. Oh, and, E) he’s dead.

Yes, someone shot him with a crossbow.

Now, you might think the others on the close would be sad but also a touch relieved that their neighbour from Hell is gone. Maybe his wife will sell up and move away with those two flowerbed-crushing rapscallion Kenworthy kids. The trouble is, said neighbours held a meeting during which they mused over Kenworthy’s death not long before bolt struck flesh and now we have before us a classic-style mystery for Daniel Hawthorne and Anthony Horowitz to solve – set in a closed environment, and there’s even a locked-room element within the story.

But wait, there’s a further twist. Here, Anthony Horowitz isn’t involved in solving the case. Unlike previous books in the Hawthorne series, the killing doesn’t happen in the present tense of its telling. Kenworthy actually died five years earlier and, for a change, Horowitz is writing the story of how Hawthorne solved the crime (or not) based on case notes and conversations with the ex-Met detective as well as other participants in the tale.

It might sound complicated, but Close to Death has what readers want from books in this set. There are quirky suspects with things to hide, clever clues concealed among the red herrings, Horowitz’s wry observations on middle-class living in London as well as his wonderful use of language. It also tantalises with the promise of more insight into who the mysterious mystery-solver Daniel Hawthorne really is. Going back five years, we get to meet his old investigative partner, John Dudley, and one or two of his enemies in the Met.

The close is a gated community consisting of a main house and five cottages, off Petersham Road. Giles has annoyed everyone by blaring his music at all hours, roaring in and out in his cars, and parking them wherever he wants – even if he’s blocking someone in. His wife Lynda has threatened to kill Ellery, the bulldog owned by May and Phyllis, who are in their 70s and run a crime fiction bookshop. His sons have skateboarded on Andrew Pennington’s flowers – planted in memory of the deceased Mrs Pennington. It was Giles’ parking that prevented Dr Tom Beresford getting to work, resulting in the death of a patient.

Across the close, Adam Strauss is a chess grandmaster whose… um… Lord of the Rings chess set has been destroyed by a cricket ball belonging to the Kenworthy kids. He and wife Teri are fuming. To cap it off, Giles and Lynda K want to build a swimming pool and jacuzzi practically underneath Felicity Browne’s window. Not so terrible you think, until you find out that Felicity is more or less bedridden and her window overlooking the Kenworthy’s magnolia is her window on the world. Felicity’s husband Roderick – dentist to the stars – bares his teeth.

Flitting among them all is Sarah Baines, the gardener and all round handy woman who has the keys to some of their homes. Nobody’s quite sure how she ended up working on the close but she comes and goes.

With the old notes and recordings at his disposal, Horowitz peels back the layers and finds the characters have unusual and sometimes embarrassing secrets. Anger, jealousy, animosity and motive begin to point in various directions. Other deaths are connected to the case. We see Hawthorne and Dudley – dry in their humour, direct in their manner – pressing each potential suspect. One among them is very obvious as the owner of the crossbow, but could it have been a setup? Or, might the killing have been a joint enterprise?

Crime fiction lovers will be delighted with May and Phyllis. Their little bookshop and tea room only sells cosy crime fiction. Where they’re concerned, and throughout the book, Horowitz references a variety of mystery authors and their novels, from Jo Nesbo to Agatha Christie. One or two classic storylines even have a bearing on the case.

In the present day, Horowitz is told who the killer was quite early on, but he’s not buying it and Hawthorne is avoiding him. He can’t figure out why so he starts digging into Hawthorne’s other cases and contacts. Maybe Dudley is the key? The man is no longer an investigator and seems to have disappeared, so Horowitz tries to track him down.

While knowing more about Hawthorne is intriguing at first, what’s actually revealed seems a bit… well… I’m not sure we’re much closer to understanding him. He’s always been a difficult one but here things don’t conclude in a particularly satisfying way. On the other hand, it was time for a slightly different approach in the series and hats off to Anthony Horowitz for recognising this.

The storytelling is masterful. The metafiction approach, Horowitz’s jibes at the publishing industry, and the way he plays with our obsession with the genre, will help to reel you in. I saw all the clues but didn’t solve it. Either way, I won’t block anyone’s driveway anytime soon.

The hardback printing of this book is rather lovely and you can see some images here.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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