Book review: Detective Daniel Hawthorne series

02 Feb 2022
By Ellie M., Post-grad at University of Glasgow

We’re starting something new here on The Common Room, and that’s book reviews. Student writer Ellie M kicks it off below with a review of the three-book Detective Daniel Hawthorne series.

One bright, spring, London morning, Diana Cowper walks into a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral. That afternoon, she is found dead; murdered. And so begins the perplexing antics of Detective Daniel Hawthorne, and the Dr Watson of the story, Anthony Horowitz.

The Plot

Hawthorne, a retired detective with a hidden past, is hired to help the police with a particularly complex case. Insulting, selfish, and sneaky – but their only option – he begins trying to solve the brutal murder while Anthony Horowitz, generally a quieter character with little knack for solving crimes, gets roped in and is hired to write a new, exciting, true crime series based on Hawthorne and his work. Great idea, right? Who doesn’t love a bit of true crime these days!

And that is where I think this series gets clever, and certainly differs from the majority of both true and fiction crime out there. The story is a sort of hybrid. Detective Daniel Hawthorne does not exist in the real world, whereas Anthony Horowitz does (which I can confirm; I have met him!) The book is written by Horowitz and his name appears on the front cover as the author, but at the same time, he himself is a character in the series and writes as if it’s all real.

Blended Reality

This device works brilliantly in these books. On the one hand, they have a real sense of legitimacy from Horowitz dropping in details about his personal life; including his wife and family, and his job as a TV writer for the long running WWII drama, Foyles War. And yet the stories have so much more freedom for creativity, adventure, and mystery. The characters really come to life on the page and are written in just as much detail as the real world people who feature in the books. He writes about the scenery, more often than not the streets of London, and it feels as if he really is walking along, trying to hail a cab in the rain with Detective Hawthorne smoking at his side.

As I got drawn into the story, I found myself bookmarking my page so I could go and Google the latest suspect, completely forgetting that they did not exist. Horowitz was clever here too; every now and then he reminds us that he’s ‘changed the names of the people involved in order to protect their real identity that’s linked with the murder investigation.’ Little things like that once again help the reader to forget that among all of the biographical-sounding events, the whole story was made up in this man’s head.

The Story

Aside from the clever plot device, the stories themselves are a really fun read, full of twists and turns with some common side plots and themes that trail right through the trilogy. After the case of Diana Cowper’s murder is wrapped in The Word is Murder, Horowitz vows to never help Hawthorne again after a rickety conclusion, but quickly gets drawn back in at the beginning of the second book, The Sentence is Death. This time, a wealthy divorce lawyer has been bludgeoned to death with a bottle of wine that he had no intention of opening and the case weaves itself through a list of complex suspects and links back to a caving accident from 10 years prior.

In all honesty, I have read very few crime books in my life and there are plenty of people I’d rather read about than wealthy divorce lawyers (sounds kind of boring), but I enjoyed every minute of these books. Despite the premise, Horowitz’s style of writing paints a gripping picture, and the interaction between the characters, especially with him and Hawthorne, is very entertaining and sure to get a laugh when you’re least expecting it. I may be slightly biased of course; reading Anthony Horowitz’s teenage spy series Alex Rider when I was young was what got me into reading! But even now that I’m older, the Detective Hawthorne series is written in a way that sparks a similar sense of intrigue as the Alex Rider series did more than ten years ago.

Killer Puns

And of course, I have to mention the smart titles of the books too: The Word is Murder, The Sentence is Death, and A Line to Kill. Each title is more than just a literary pun and relates back to an element of the corresponding book, but you’ll have to read them to find out what they are.

I should also point out I haven’t yet read the third book in the series - I received it for Christmas but I haven’t quite got around to it yet. But if it’s anything like its two predecessors, then I can guarantee it’ll be an excellent read and a gripping whodunnit!

Intrigued by Ellie’s review of the Detective Hawthorne book series? You can buy all three books on Amazon.


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Crafter, casual gamer, and future forest ranger. I'm Ellie and I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2021 with a degree in Film Studies and Theatre. I grew up in rural Aberdeenshire and am still trying to figure this ‘adult’ thing out.