On the day that she visited the funeral home to arrange her own funeral, Diana Cowper was murdered. Author Anthony Horowitz might never have been aware of the somewhat unsensational murder of elderly mother of a relatively well-known actor if he had not been approached by Daniel Hawthorne, an abrasive former detective turned police consultant with an unusual proposition. Hawthorne suggests that Anthony shadow him on the case and turn the events into a murder mystery story, which Hawthorne is certain will be a bestseller, due not so much to the intrigue of the case but to Hawthorne’s particular brilliance as a detective. Although he is off-put by Hawthorne’s egotism and other personality flaws and fears that such a book would be difficult to sell, Anthony finds the circumstances of Diana Cowper’s death so unusual and engaging that he must know what happens to her. And unless he agrees to Hawthorne’s book, he might never find out how the story ends. As the investigation unfolds, Anthony learns more dark secrets than he ever expected about Diana, her son, and Hawthorne himself. But every time he thinks of quitting, the mystery spurs him on, until he begins to wonder if he, the writer, is destined to solve it himself.
This meta-literary mystery is a fun, suspenseful read with enough twists, red herrings, and maddening clues to keep you going to the very end. The meta-literary framing, along with the brilliant yet barely likeable detective, sets the story as a kind of modern Sherlock Holmes novel, although the characters of the detective and record-keeping assistant are far from Holmes/Watson clones. I suspect this mystery may not be for everyone, as the meta-literary format is somewhat unique and experimental, but personally, I loved it. I particularly loved the moments when theories I had ended up being theories that Anthony would pursue–and then later have scornfully debunked by Hawthorne. I recommend it to mystery readers who like character-driven novels and who are open to interesting framing devices.