It’s not easy to create a new detective. With so many brilliant examples out there – from Holmes and Poirot to Rebus, Luther and Sarah Lund – it’s hard to know even where to start. Male or female? What nationality? Old or young? Working privately or with the police? And then there’s a whole pack of mannerisms to shuffle through. Pipe, moustache, opera music, classic car, fine wine, chunky sweaters… it’s all a bit like playing with that old toy, Mr (or Mrs) Potato Head.
So I suppose I was very lucky that Daniel Hawthorne, the investigator in my new novel, The Word Is Murder, simply walked into my life. Although I’d been thinking about writing a new series of murder mysteries for some time, the book was actually his idea.
I met him when I was working on Injustice, a television series starring James Purefoy that I wrote for ITV in 2010. I was told that he had been fired from his position as a Detective Inspector based in Putney but nobody quite knew why. He was a murder specialist with ten years on the force but was now working freelance, helping screenwriters by providing all the inside details that would help to create a realistic police world. To be fair to him, he was very useful, although I often found him unnecessarily critical of my work.
He was in his 40s. If you’ve seen Injustice, he looked remarkably like the brilliant actor Charlie Creed-Miles, who played the unpleasant DI in that series. He always came to meetings on time. He wore the same dark suit, shirt and tie. I never invited him to my house. We tended to meet in coffee bars, or rather outside them as he smoked like a chimney. We must have spent six or seven hours together and then, once the scripts were finished, he disappeared. We invited him to the cast and crew screening but he didn’t come.
I hadn’t seen him for a few years and then, one day, he rang me quite out of the blue and asked if I’d meet him at a coffee bar in Clerkenwell. Even now I’m not quite sure why I agreed but that was when he told me that the Metropolitan Police were still using him as a sort of consultant, advising them on “stickers” – unusually complicated cases. And the case he was investigating was certainly one of those. A wealthy woman walks into a funeral parlour and arranges her own funeral down to the last detail. Just six hours later, someone murders her. Why?
Hawthorne asked me if I’d be interested in writing about the investigation and at first I refused. After our earlier experiences, I really wasn’t sure that the two of us would get on. Eventually, I changed my mind. I have to say that, the way things turned out, it might have been better if I hadn’t.
Hawthorne is quite simply infuriating. Even now, with the first book published and a second on the way, he refuses to tell me anything about himself. I know he’s married with an 11-year-old son, but is separated from his wife. I would describe him as quite lonely although he’d almost certainly deny it; he contradicts almost everything I say. There’s a certain smouldering violence in his character that I can’t quite pin down… in fact I’m quite sure that something happened to him that has somehow damaged him but, again, he won’t tell me what it is. He has a dislike of authority. He’s very reclusive. He doesn’t drink and quite dislikes being seen eating. He is remarkably old-fashioned in some of his attitudes, which makes me think, sometimes, that he’s completely out of touch with the real world.
All of which said, he is a brilliant detective. I would say he has the same, analytical mind as Sherlock Holmes (although why do I get the feeling that he is also cheating in some way?). The first time we met, he was able to tell me all sorts of things about myself, like a magician or a mentalist doing a stage act. He also solved what turned out to be a bizarre and quite complicated crime – which was helpful because otherwise I’d have nothing to write about!
I’m not sure quite how much longer I’m going to continue working with him. To be honest, it largely depends on the success of the first two books. Hawthorne made it clear from the start that he’d only come to me because he needed the money. Speaking personally, I quite object to being treated like some superannuated Dr Watson and there are plenty of other things I’d like to write. My editor at Random House has talked about seven or eight more. We’ll see.
By Anthony Horowitz