Agatha Christie was, I believe, the originator of the locked-room mystery. If not the originator, she was at least an early and very successful practitioner.
But this post is not about Agatha Christie. It’s about Anthony Horowitz and his latest novel, A Line to Kill. Horowitz is perhaps best known as the creator of Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. He is also the author of many novels for adults and quite a few for children. In the classic, golden-age tradition, he sets A Line to Kill in a metaphorical locked-room—an isolated island, in this case. The Decagon House Murders, for example—which I reviewed three months ago—is another modern instance of the same idea, and you can find variations in many of Agatha Christie’s stories, such as Murder on the Orient Express (where the locked room is a snowed-in luxury train) and Ten Little Indians (where it is an isolated country house). Here Horowitz has located the story on the island of Alderney, the least-known of the Channel Islands.
I listened to the captivating audiobook version, which I highly recommend. Rory Kinnear, being a Shakespearean actor, surprises no one by holding the listener’s attention with convincing portrayals of all the characters. No spoilers here, but let me just say that most of the characters are not quite what (or who) they seem to be, except for the two protagonists: Holmesian Daniel Hawthorne and Watsonian Anthony Horowitz. Yes, Horowitz is a character in his own story. (This one is the third in a series, all featuring Hawthorne and Horowitz). Unlike most satires, A Line to Kill does name some names, including Penguin Random House, which published the book, and several of Horowitz’s previous successes IRL.
In order to avoid spoilers, I can’t tell you much about the story. All I can say is that it’s about a small—very small—literary festival featuring several second-tier authors, a local not-quite-billionaire, and a political controversy over a huge electric transmission line that is proposed between France and England. The line, of course, has to pass through Maine on its way to Massachusetts—oops, that’s the wrong line; this one would pass through Alderney on its way to Southampton.
I learned something about the Channel Islands along the way. Perhaps like you, I had thought that the Channel Islands were part of the UK, but it turns out that they are a different jurisdiction, being a pair of self-governing bailiwicks: the Bailiwick of Guernsey and the Bailiwick of Jersey. Alderney is part of the former. And I learned that the word bailiwick, which sound slangish, is actually an old word meaning a territory governed by a bailiff! As they say, you learn something every day.
So go read the book! Great characterizations, engaging plot, a fine sense of setting, and on top of all that you might learn something. What more could you want?