Anthony Horowitz is prolific and versatile. He writes screen and teleplays (Foyle’s War is one of more than a dozen television series for which he has written), young-adult fiction, adult fiction, and he contracted with the Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming estates to continue the Sherlock Holmes and James Bond series. His latest book, “Magpie Murders: A Novel,” is a clever whodunit evoking classic murder mysteries. “Magpie Murder” is released in the United States on June 6. This interview was published in the Houston Chronicle on 6-4-2017.
Mike Yawn: Tell us about your new book.
Anthony Horowitz: “Magpie Murders” is a classic, golden age murder mystery that involves a book within a book. The “inner book” has no ending because the author of the book is murdered. Therefore, his editor—in the 21st century—investigates his murder to find out who did it in the book. It’s difficult to describe, but I think the main thing is that it is two books for the price of one. And no one has been able to guess the ending—either of the endings!
Mike Yawn: It may not have been solved, but I am guessing you are pleased that you do abide by the conventions of the mystery genre.
Anthony Horowitz: The book can be solved, the clues are there as to why the writer was murdered, but no one has managed to spot it. It makes me smile. I have my hobbies: I love illusions, I love magic, I love tricks. I love things that make people smile, and that’s what I was trying to do in the “Magpie Murders.” From the reactions I have gotten, it seems to have worked.
Mike Yawn: Was constructing a narrative involving a book within a book more complex than a straightforward novel??
Anthony Horowitz: It’s probably the most complex book I’ve ever begun. I worked out all the different connections to the book within the book, and I had to examine all the characters in one world to ensure they had counterparts in the other world. But at the same time, the book could not read complex. It was as if it was a very elaborate scaffolding for a simple building.
Anthony Horowitz: She was the great Queen of Crime, and the book has many nods to her techniques and to the world of fiction she created. In “Magpie Murders,” I acknowledge her influence, and it’s no coincidence that one of the key characters, Alan Conway, shares her initials, so she is there in spirit. But it’s not a continuation of her, nor is it a pastiche as in the Holmes or Bond novels that I have written.
Mike Yawn: Speaking of these, your books featuring Bond (“Trigger Mortis”) and Holmes (“House of Silk”) were actually authorized by the Fleming and Doyle estates.
Anthony Horowitz: Yes, when I was growing up, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes were probably the two greatest influences on me. The stories stayed with me and when the Holmes and Flemings’ estates asked me to write books using their characters, it was irresistible. It was irresistible because it was an invitation to “live with” great heroes of mine. But as much as I admire Doyle and Fleming, and as much as I endeavored to raise my game and be as good of a writer as them, I have my own voice, too. I do original books and the continuation novels with equal pleasure. My writing makes me happy.
Mike Yawn: Are you doing any other books featuring Holmes or Bond?
Anthony Horowitz: The Fleming estate was very happy with “Trigger Mortis,” and they have asked me to do another. I am in the research stage now.
Mike Yawn: How many novels have you written?
Anthony Horowitz: I’m not even sure myself anymore. But I think I am up to 47.
Mike Yawn: How many screenplays have you written?
Anthony Horowitz: (Laughs, then begins counting up episodes). I’d say between 50-60.
Mike Yawn: What’s the difference between writing novels and screenplays?
Anthony Horowitz: There are separate techniques, but they do have similarities. They are both narrative driven, and they seek to create suspense. But television is more collaborative, with set designers, costume designers, the director, and so forth.
Mike Yawn: Which do you prefer to work on?
Anthony Horowitz: I love all the writing I do, but books to me seem to have a greater value, particularly since I write so many books for young people. I have had a small but maybe benign influence on their life through books.
Mike Yawn: Your books for young people include the popular Alex Rider and Diamond Brothers’ novels. Is it difficult for writers of young-adult fiction to maintain an audience? That is, does your audience grow up and leave you?
Anthony Horowitz: Children do grow up and they leave their children’s books behind them. But I meet many people in their 20s and 30s who read me as a child, and they tell me how much those books meant to them. And there is always a new audience, if you write classic children’s stories.
Mike Yawn: Rumor has it that you occasionally model characters in your novels—usually villains—after people you have met and do not care for. Is that true?
Anthony Horowitz: True! The headmaster of my school was Mr. Ellis, who appeared in an episode of “Foyle’s War” as a Nazi-sympathizing, fascist, wife-murderer who himself got killed in the final reel. Now, you might think of this as a petty revenge, but if you are a long-distance writer like I am, sitting in a room by myself for ten hours a day, polishing off your enemies in your novels makes you smile.
Mike Yawn is the Director of the Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics at Sam Houston State University.