Extract: The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz
‘Our deal is over.’ That’s what reluctant author Anthony Horowitz tells ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne in an awkward meeting. The truth is that Anthony has other things on his mind. His new play, Mindgame, is about to open in London’s Vaudeville theatre. Not surprisingly Hawthorne declines a ticket.
On opening night, Sunday Times critic Harriet Throsby gives the play a savage review, focusing particularly on the writing. The next morning she is found dead, stabbed in the heart with an ornamental dagger which, it turns out, belongs to Anthony and which has his finger prints all over it.
Anthony is arrested, charged with Throsby’s murder, thrown into prison and interrogated. Alone and increasingly desperate, he realises only one man can help him. But will Hawthorne take his call?
Read on for the first chapter of The Twist of a Knife by Anthony Horowitz!
The Twist of a Knife
‘I’m sorry, Hawthorne. But the answer’s no.’
I hated arguing with Hawthorne. It wasn’t just that I invariably lost. He managed to make me feel bad about even trying to win. Those murky brown eyes of his could be quite ferocious when he was on the attack, but the moment I challenged him they would suddenly become hurt and defensive and I would find myself backtracking and apologising even though I was quite sure I was right. I’ve said this before, but there was something childlike about his moods. I never really knew where I was with him, which made it almost impossible to write about him and that, as it happened, was exactly what we were discussing now.
I had followed Hawthorne on three investigations and these had led to three books. The first had been published. The second was being read by my agent (although she’d had it for two and a half weeks and I hadn’t heard a word). I would start writing the third at the end of the year and I was confident it wasn’t going to be difficult because of course I’d already lived through it and knew what happened in the end. I had agreed to a three-book contract and as far as I was concerned, three was enough.
I hadn’t seen Hawthorne for a while. From the amount of crime fiction you’ll find in bookshops and on TV, you’d think someone is being murdered almost every day of the week, but fortunately real life isn’t like that and several months had passed since we had got back from the island of Alderney, leaving just three bodies behind. I had no idea what he’d been up to in that time and, to be honest, he hadn’t been very much in my thoughts.
And then, quite suddenly, there he was, on the telephone, inviting me round to his London flat – and that in itself was remarkable because usually if I wanted to get in, I had to ring someone else’s doorbell and pretend to be from Ocado. River Court was a low-rise block of flats built in the seventies close to Blackfriars Bridge and Hawthorne had a space on the top floor. Space was the operative word. There was almost no furniture, no pictures on the walls, no possessions of any sort apart from the Airfix models he liked to assemble and the computer equipment he used to hack into the police database, helped by the teenager who lived one floor below.
This was something that had shocked me when I had first stumbled into Kevin Chakraborty’s bedroom and discovered him cheerfully displaying a private photograph of me and my son as his screensaver. Kevin admitted he had stolen it from my phone and then went on to explain that he had also helped Hawthorne break into the automatic number-plate recognition system used by the police in Hampshire. I hadn’t remonstrated with him, partly because he had provided us with useful information, but also because, at the end of the day, how do you pick a fight with a teenager who’s in a wheelchair? Nor had I ever mentioned it to Hawthorne. After all, this was a man who had been thrown out of the police force for pushing a known paedophile down a flight of stairs. He might have a moral compass, but he was the one who would decide which way it pointed.
He didn’t own the flat, by the way. He didn’t even rent it. He had told me that he was a caretaker, employed by a London estate agent who was ‘a sort of half-brother’. That was the thing about Hawthorne. He couldn’t have a relative who was something simple like a sister-in-law or a first cousin or whatever. He was separated from his wife, but he was still close to her. Everything about him was complicated and it didn’t matter what questions I asked because the answers led me exactly nowhere. It was all very frustrating.
The two of us were sitting in his kitchen, surrounded by gleaming chrome and pristine work surfaces. I had walked down from my own flat in Clerkenwell: we only lived about fifteen minutes apart, which made the emotional distance between us all the more striking. Hawthorne was wearing his usual combination of a suit with a white shirt, although, just for once, he had put on a grey round-neck jersey instead of a jacket. The casual look. He had offered me a cup of tea and he had been thoughtful enough to provide biscuits: four of them, to be precise; two-finger KitKats criss-crossing each other on a plate as if set up for a game of noughts and crosses. He was drinking black coffee with his ever-present packet of cigarettes close by.
He wanted me to write a fourth book. That was what the meeting was about, but I had already decided against it. Why? Well, first of all – and ignoring the visits I had made to the casualty wards of two London hospitals – Hawthorne had never been very kind to me. He had made it clear from the start that this was going to be a business relationship. He wanted someone to write about him because he needed the money and, to make matters worse, he had let me know that I wasn’t even his first choice. For my part, I’d made my decision before I’d come here. Enough was enough. I was fed up of being treated like an appendage. There were lots of stories I wanted to write where I would be in charge and this was something he would never understand. Authors don’t write their books for other people. We write for ourselves.
‘You can’t stop now,’ Hawthorne said. He thought for a moment. ‘The Word is Murder was really good.’
‘You read it?’ I asked.
‘Some of it. But the reviews were great! You should be pleased with yourself. The Daily Mail said it was splendidly entertaining.’
‘I don’t read reviews – and that was the Express.’
‘Your publishers want you to do more.’
‘How do you know that?’
‘Hilda told me.’
‘Hilda?’ I couldn’t believe what he’d just said. Hilda Starke was my literary agent – the same agent who had advised me against getting into all this in the first place. I could still remember her face when I’d told her I would be sharing the profits fifty-fifty with Hawthorne. She’d met him recently at Penguin Random House and I’d seen him charm her, but it was still a surprise that the two of them had been having conversations without me. ‘When did you talk to her?’ I asked.
‘What? You rang her?’
‘No. We had lunch.’
My head swam as I took this in. ‘You don’t even eat lunch!’ I exclaimed. ‘And anyway, what are you doing meeting Hilda? She’s my agent.’
‘She’s mine now too.’
‘You’re serious? You’re paying her fifteen per cent?’
‘Actually, I managed to knock her down a bit.’ He moved on hastily. ‘She reckons we could get another three-book deal. And a bigger advance!’
‘I don’t write for the money.’ I didn’t mean to sound so prim but it was true. Writing for me has always been a very personal process. It’s my life. It’s what makes me happy. ‘Anyway, it doesn’t make any difference,’ I went on. ‘I can’t write another book about you. You’re not working on any new cases.’
‘Not at the moment,’ he admitted. ‘But I could tell you about some of my past ones.’
‘When you were with the police?’
‘After I left. There was that business in Riverside Close in Richmond. A man hammered to death in a posh cul-de-sac. You’d like that, Tony! It was my first private investigation.’
I remembered him talking about it when we were both in Alderney. ‘It may be a great story,’ I said. ‘But I can’t write about it. I wasn’t there.’
‘I could tell you what happened.’
‘I’m sorry. I’m not interested.’ I reached out for one of the biscuits, then changed my mind. They were somehow unappetising. A chocolate hashtag. ‘Anyway, it’s not just about the crimes, Hawthorne. How can I write about you when I know almost nothing about you?’
‘I’m a detective. What else do you need to know?’
‘We’ve already been into this. I know you’re a very private person. But you’ve got to see things from my point of view. You can’t have a main character who doesn’t give anything away, and frankly, being with you, I feel I’m up against a brick wall.’
‘What do you want to know?’
‘Are you being serious?’
‘All right.’ About twenty questions arrived at the same moment, but I asked the first one that came into my head. ‘What happened at Reeth?’
‘I don’t even know where that is.’
‘When we were in that pub in Yorkshire, a man called Mike Carlyle said that he knew you from Reeth, although he called you Billy.’
‘He’d got the wrong person. That wasn’t me.’
‘And there’s something I didn’t tell you.’ I paused. ‘When I got back from Alderney, a postcard came. It was from Derek Abbott.’
Abbott was the convicted child pornographer we’d met in Alderney. He was the man who’d supposedly fallen down the stairs while he was in police custody.
‘He wrote to you from hell?’ Hawthorne asked.
‘He wrote to me before he died. He told me to ask you about Reeth.’
‘I don’t know anything about Reeth. It’s a place. I haven’t been there.’
I knew he was lying, but there was no point in challenging him. ‘All right, then,’ I said. ‘Tell me about your wife. Your son. What about your brother, the estate agent? How old are you really? You said you were thirty-nine in Alderney, but I think you’re older.’
‘That’s not very nice.’
I ignored him. ‘Why do you make all these models? What’s that all about? Why don’t you ever eat?’
Hawthorne looked uncomfortable. His hand edged towards the cigarette packet and I knew that he wanted to light up. ‘You don’t need any of this,’ he complained. ‘That’s not what the books are about. They’re about murder!’ He made it sound attractive, as if violent death was something to be desired. ‘If you really want to put in stuff about me, why don’t you just make it up?’
‘That’s exactly my point!’ I exclaimed. ‘I prefer making things up. I don’t find it easy writing books when I don’t know the ending. I don’t like walking three steps behind you like the murder-mystery equivalent of the Duke of Edinburgh. I’m sorry, Hawthorne. But this hasn’t been much fun for me. I’ve been stabbed twice! I’ve never come anywhere close to getting anything right. And even if I did want to continue, you haven’t got any more cases for us to investigate together – besides which, I made a mistake with the titles.’
‘You should have called the first one Hawthorne Investigates.’
‘That’s not what I mean.’ I snatched one of the KitKats after all. I didn’t want to eat it. I just wanted to spoil the pattern. ‘It’s the concept. It doesn’t work.’
I’d decided that all the titles would have some sort of literary reference. After all, I was a writer; he was a detective. The Word is Murder, The Sentence is Death, A Line to Kill. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but I’d already run out of grammatical allusions. Life Comes to a Full Stop? It wouldn’t make sense in America, where they have periods. The Case of the Missing Colon? It would only work if a body part went missing from a morgue. No. Even the titles were telling me that I had agreed to a trilogy and that was as far as it would go.
‘You can find someone else,’ I suggested, weakly.
He shrugged. ‘I like working with you, mate. You and I get along… somehow. We’ve got an understanding.’
‘I’m not sure I understand anything,’ I said. It was strange. I hadn’t expected this meeting to become so gloomy. I’d thought it was just going to be a simple parting of the ways. ‘It’s not the end of our relationship,’ I continued. ‘There are two more books still to come out. We’ll meet at the publishers. And maybe there’ll be more literary festivals – although after the last one, people may be nervous about inviting us.’
‘I thought we did all right.’
‘Three people got killed!’
I had never seen Hawthorne so defeated. At that moment, I realised that whatever I might have said, some sort of bond had grown between us. At the end of the day, it’s not possible to investigate the deaths of seven human beings without becoming close. I admired Hawthorne. I liked him and I’d always tried to make him likeable when I was writing about him. Suddenly I wanted to leave.
I didn’t eat the KitKat. I finished my tea and stood up. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘If something comes up, another investigation, let me know and maybe I’ll think again.’ Even as I spoke the words, I knew I wouldn’t. At the same time, I was quite sure he wouldn’t get in touch with me either.
‘I’ll do that,’ he said.
I walked towards the door but before I reached it, I turned back. I wanted to end on a more cheerful note. ‘My play opens next week,’ I said. ‘Why don’t you come to the first night?’
‘What play is that?’
I was sure I’d mentioned it to him. ‘Mindgame. It’s a sort of thriller. It’s got Jordan Williams and Tirian Kirke in it.’ They were both well-known actors but Hawthorne didn’t appear to have heard of either of them. ‘You’ll enjoy it. It’s on at the Vaudeville Theatre.’
‘It’s in the Strand… opposite the Savoy. There’ll be a party afterwards and Hilda will be there.’
‘So what night is it on?’
‘Sorry, mate.’ The answer came straight back without a moment’s pause. ‘I’m busy that night.’
Well, if he was going to be like that, I wasn’t going to persuade him otherwise. ‘That’s too bad,’ I said, and I left.
I was feeling a little dejected as I walked along the River Thames towards the bridge, heading back to my flat in Clerkenwell. I knew I’d made the right decision about the books, but still I had a sense of a task that I hadn’t completed, of an opportunity I’d allowed to slip away. I really had wanted to know more about Hawthorne. I’d even been thinking of making the journey to Reeth. Now it was almost certain that I’d never see him again.
Here’s the annoying thing…
Despite everything I’ve just written, it’s obvious that there’s going to be another murder because if there hadn’t been, why would I have written anything at all? The very fact that you’re holding this book, complete with compulsory bloodstain on the cover, rather spoils the surprise. It proves how handicapped writers are when they’re dealing with the truth, with what actually happened.
There was one thing that I didn’t know, though. Although the first three books had caused me enough upsets, this one was going to be much, much worse.
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