In this second Inspector Hawthorne mystery by the author of Magpie Murders, Hawthorne investigates the bludgeoning death of a celebrity-divorce lawyer with some metafictional help from his sidekick, the writer Anthony Horowitz.
The case(s) at hand is suitably stymying, but it’s the dynamic between the dichotomous Hawthorne and Horowitz that tethers the novel. While their truce appears tenuous at best, there’s an undeniable chemistry between the two ... There’s a probable backstory here that has yet to be fully revealed and remains a tantalizing thread ... the storytelling is both masterful and masterfully meta. And while this latter element lends itself to charges of shameless self-indulgence, Horowitz never feigns restraint. Rather, he fully embraces the over-the-topness—and that’s a large part of the books’ appeal. The Sentence Is Death, then, may just be one of summer’s grandest, guiltiest pleasures. The questions of who- and whydunit will keep you guessing, but it’s the players themselves—including a congenial-if-bemused Anthony Horowitz—that are ultimately arresting. Pray for solitary confinement, because you’ll want to read this one straight through and uninterrupted.
At times in the second half of the novel it's difficult to distinguish among venues, especially for those who aren't intimately familiar with London, with England, with the geography of Yorkshire. However, Horowitz always provides peeks at places tourists might miss, like the higgledy-piggledy architecture of tony Hampstead's even tonier Fitzroy Park, where houses have names and no numbers. It's also difficult, at times, to distinguish between Horowitz's frustration and Hawthorne's chiding; sometimes the pair seem as irritating as anyone's squabbling parents at the dinner table. However, there's just enough intrigue about Hawthorne's past and present connections to make a third novel satisfying in concept. Horowitz mimics Golden Age authors (Christie, Allingham, Marsh, Sayers) so well in his books' scope and denouéments that fans of both puzzle and cozy mysteries will savor the balance of clues and cups of tea (OK, more often pints and cocktails, here) that the author seems to have imbibed like mother's milk. The Sentence Is Death should make a bracing, smart addition to your beach bag.
The veteran British writer has created a new and compelling style of detective fiction: a mystery novel that is peculiarly meta ... Within the confines of the form, Horowitz also demonstrates a deep knowledge of Literature with a capital L. A lot of thought has been put into these books, conceptually and structurally. Even their individual titles are plays on words which become significant as the stories unfold ... despite what he’s said in interviews, Horowitz is undoubtedly the star of the series...he has an indecent amount of fun being a character in his own book. He fearlessly co-opts friends, colleagues, and family members to serve his plot ... But it comes at a cost. All of this is accomplished at the expense of Detective Daniel Hawthorne, who remains a supporting character despite his invariably being the one to solve the case. By the end of The Sentence Is Death some of the details are filled in, but the man himself remains frustratingly elusive ... The Sentence Is Death is a much funnier book than its predecessor, but it brings us only a little bit closer in our understanding of Hawthorne.