The Sentence is Death
by Anthony Horowitz (Century) ★★★✩✩
THE man behind teen spy franchise Alex Rider is back with a new grown-up mystery series that began with last year’s The Word Is Murder, in which the author himself is the hero, cracking crimes with maverick ex-copper Daniel Hawthorne.
Set in 2013, while Anthony Horowitz is shooting his Foyle’s War for ITV, it centres on a high-profile divorce lawyer, Pryce, found beaten to death with a bottle of wine at his Hampstead home.
The prime suspect is Japanese-American novelist Akira Anno, overheard threatening him in a restaurant after Pryce represented her ex-husband during their divorce. But the plot thickens when Pryce’s friend Gregory also dies — apparently pushed under a train — and it emerges both men were burdened by the death of a friend while caving in Yorkshire.
Cluedo-style antics aren’t the only thing going on here, though: there’s added interest in the shape of a bitter book-world satire, as the fictional Horowitz finds himself scorned by Akira, a multiple Booker nominee with a whopper of a secret up her sleeve.
She’s a cartoon cut-out designed, you suspect, to troll the literary world — as if Horowitz, not content with selling squillions of books, needs to take potshots at notions of prestige.
But if there’s a chip on his shoulder it doesn’t get in the way of the fun on offer here. So-called autofiction (in which the writer is the protagonist) is a genre often derided for narcissism but by bolting it to a crime story that keeps you up into the small hours, Horowitz has given it a welcome shot in the arm.
A winning hybrid of winky metafiction and page-turning mystery
by Michelle Obama (Penguin) ★★★★✩
Michelle Obama’s memoir of her life up to her and Barack’s departure from the White House in 2016 is the literary event of the year in sheer numbers alone: pre-orders have been second only to those for Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman.
In always lively, thoughtful and cliché-free prose, the former First Lady describes an extraordinary life shaped by self-belief, determination and the ‘invisibility’ that comes with being black, as she recounts her journey as an academically gifted child from a loving blue-collar household in Chicago to the world’s most famous address.
Obama makes clear she is not a political person — she comes across as much more interested in ‘causes’ than the political nitty-gritty — but this is undeniably a political book, both a fierce critique of the Donald Trump administration’s politics of hatred and a powerful reminder of a better, more compassionate America. CLAIRE ALLFREE
By George Saunders (Bloomsbury) ★★★★✩
On the surface at least, Fox 8 appears to be a small slice of beautifully illustrated children’s fiction and not the most obvious follow-up to George Saunders’ dazzling Booker Prize-winning Lincoln In The Bardo.
Fox 8 has learnt ‘Yuman’ by hiding in the bushes outside a house and listening to children’s bedtime stories. His ‘Yuman’ is not perfect, though — ‘Sorry for any werds I spel rong. Because I am a fox! So don’t rite or spel perfect.’
He embarks on an adventure to try to save his pack from the construction of a shopping mall. But what starts as a sweet, idiosyncratic tale quickly becomes bleak and brutal as it emerges that Fox 8 is an émigré’s tale. It’ll take you an hour to read but will stay with you far longer. PAUL CONNOLLY
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