Meet the World’s Greatest Living Jewish Mystery Writer
Anthony Horowitz is one of the world’s greatest mystery writers, and arguably, the greatest living Jewish author of mysteries.
His original works are worldwide best sellers, he’s been hand-picked to continue the adventures of Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, written countless hours of television, and is the author of the best-selling Alex Rider series. In addition to his boundless talent and productivity, he’s also given back both to his readers and the community at large.
Ahead of the release of his latest novel, “A Line To Kill,” Horowitz spoke to The Algemeiner about his career, his inspirations, and his faith and upbringing.
David Meyers (DM): Your book “The Magpie Murders” is what single-handedly got me back into reading. I now read about 50 books a year, and it was all because your book reminded me how much fun reading can be.
Did the success of that book take you by surprise? You’ve already written a sequel (with a third on the way), and the property has been adapted for television. Why do you think the idea of a classic mystery novel embedded in a current one resonated so strongly?
Anthony Horowitz (AH): Well, first of all, I’m delighted “Magpie” got you back into books. And I also like the f-word (fun) used to describe what I do. I think “The Magpie Murders” worked because it offers all the tropes (and the comfort) of a golden age detective story but with a very modern twist — which makes it relevant. Also, as far as I know, this is a new format: the mystery inside a mystery. Or two for the price of one.
DM: The “classic” detective you created in that series — Atticus Pünd — is a Holocaust survivor. Can you speak to why you made that decision, and do you have any personal history with the Holocaust?
AH: Despite my family background, I have no personal connection to the Holocaust. I decided that Pünd should have been in a labor camp because I wanted to make him a more serious character than — say — Poirot or Wimsey. Murder is, after all, an evil – and Pünd has first-hand experience of what evil really means.
DM: Your current book, “A Line To Kill,” is part of another ongoing series, headlined by Detective Hawthorne and yourself.
I can’t think of many other writers who’ve created a fictional version of themselves to serve as the “Watson” to a Sherlock Holmes-like detective. How did the idea come about? And how would your friends and family compare the Anthony Horowitz we see in print to the real one?
AH: When my publishers asked me to write a series of detective stories, my first thought was — who is the detective? Is he (or she) English or foreign? Fat or thin? Married or single? Gay or straight? Does he/she have a drink[ing] problem? A phobia? But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that everything had been done.
So then I started looking at the relationship between the detective and the sidekick, and it occurred to me that if the author became the sidekick and had to write from “inside” the mystery, it would change everything. For example, if the detective didn’t solve the crime, there would be no book. Suddenly, I saw that I was going to write something completely new and that had a lot of appeal for me.
DM: You’re quite active on social media and have a dedicated fan base. Do you think that the fictional version of you has made readers feel like they know you better? And how do you have the time to be so interactive, given your productivity?
AH: I have a very happy relationship with my followers on Twitter. No politics! No insults. Nothing negative. I’d like to think that the Hawthorn books do allow people to know me a little better, although at the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that I’m not the hero of the books. I’m only the narrator. These books aren’t about me!
DM: The Atticus Pünd books take place in the post-war period, and your TV show Foyle’s War obviously does as well. Does this period have personal significance for you? And how much research do you typically do when writing about a period other than our own?
AH: I was born in 1955, so I did have some connection with World War II. My nanny, for example, lost her fiancé in the Battle of Britain. Rationing only ended in 1953! I also lived in Stanmore, which was the HQ of the Royal Air Force. I’ve always had a fascination with the period and how people behaved them — but I don’t think the war impacts on Atticus Pünd too much. What’s more important is that he’s a foreigner, an immigrant … an outsider.
DM: Your Sherlock Holmes novel “The House of Silk” is one of the best Holmes novels I’ve ever read. You’re also currently writing your next James Bond novel. When you’re writing a Holmes or Bond book, do you typically re-read any of the source material to immerse yourself in the style/vernacular of that series?
AH: Well, thank you for that. Yes, I always read the whole canon before I start writing. And the whole idea is to immerse myself 100%. I finished the new Bond just a week ago and I’m really pleased with it. I hope you agree.
DM: You’ve also written plays. Do you have a new idea for a play that we might see on the London stage sometime in the future?
AH: I would like to write another play, although I’ll be honest and admit that my plays have never quite had the success I’d hoped for. I thought “Dinner with Saddam” was a really interesting and worthwhile piece of theater. Sadly, many critics disagreed.
DM: Finally, being a Jewish publication, our readers would love to know: how your faith, family history, and upbringing influence both your writing and the message that you hope your books bring to the world?
AH: I’m afraid to say that I was never religious. Partly as a result of my Sunday school visits to the Reform synagogue in N. London (where I was a slow learner), along with my parents less than keen encouragement, I did not have a bar mitzvah and do not attend any services now. That said, being Jewish has always been an important part of my identity … I’d go further and say that it’s at the very heart of my creativity. And of course, I absolutely adore Jewish food!
David Meyers is a nationally produced playwright and author. His most recent project features award-winning actor Richard Kind.