Lit recall: Anthony Horowitz

Lit recall: Anthony Horowitz

Into the sphere of Anthony Horowitz's lesser-known works

In his career of 39 years, Horowitz has written across a variety of genres and mediums.

I don’t remember the day I bought my first Alex Rider novel, but by the time I was 14, the entirety of Anthony Horowitz’s bestselling series had taken up permanent residence on my bookshelf.

With its fast pace, dramatic (and sometimes over-the-top) plotlines, and tongue-in-cheek humour, Horowitz’s writing hooked me from an early age, as it did to millions of children across the world.

Being a spy is a common childhood fantasy, especially of a generation raised on old James Bond movies. Horowitz’s series allowed children to explore just this. But, this was not the reason for the series’s success. Horowitz has created a small world within those pages.

He created characters as diverse as the sprightly and aptly named Jack Starbright and sullen Alan Burke. Each villain was more dramatic and cunning than the last, their plans growing progressively more spine-chilling with each instalment. And each time, Alex would stop them, exhibiting great levels of bravery and ingenuity far beyond his years.

Despite his obvious achievement with the series, there is far more to the world of Anthony Horowitz than that of Alex Rider. There are worlds lit by Victorian gaslight in which all manner of unsavoury criminals abounds. Worlds marked by intrigue and rife with the fear, suspicion, and conflict of WWII. Worlds of body-swaps, haunted schoolyards, illegal embezzlements, and comically evil grandmothers.

Now that we have just celebrated his 64th birthday, it would be an apt time to reflect on the many different worlds of Anthony Horowitz.

One thing Horowitz could never be accused of is restricting himself to any particular style, or refusing to explore new ways of writing. In his career of 39 years, Horowitz has written across a variety of genres and mediums. From the printed page to the big screen, his body of work has ranged from children’s fiction to gritty cold-war dramas to modern-day murder mysteries.

Horowitz kickstarted his career in 1979 with the children’s book The Secret of Frederick K Bower, and would go on to pen around 16 novels over the course of the next two decades. His works in this era included the first three books of The Diamond Brothers series, which would later go on to become Horowitz’s second-longest running series of books.

But it wasn’t until the new millennium that Horowitz would receive the kind of fame that made him a household name across the homes of teenagers everywhere. Stormbreaker, the first volume of the immensely popular Alex Rider series, has sold 13 million copies. The series itself is still being written and has generated a hollowed adaptation for Stormbreaker.

From then on, Horowitz has gone from success to success, creating a number of successful television series and being commissioned to write two James Bond novels by the Ian Fleming estate. Despite his obvious success with these projects, there is a distinctly polished feel to them. They have, of course, been written expertly, but the commercial aspect of these ventures does tend to dominate. It seems like Horowitz is not having as much fun with these projects as he could be.

Less successful works like The Devil and His Boy and Magpie Murders are where his personality shines through most. Horowitz is at his strongest when he is being himself, and an important part of that may be defying convention. Horowitz’s longest-running series, Foyle’s War, stars a quiet and down-to-earth protagonist, a breath of fresh air in a form of media that has come to be dominated by cocky and wisecracking leading men.

Books like The Switch and Granny, inspired in part by Horowitz’s own childhood, exhibit a kind of absurdity that is far from what readers of his most popular works have come to expect. But it is this characteristic, among others, that makes this side of Horowitz so easy to return to.

I never saw much value in re-reading an Alex Rider book, but the pages of some of his other works remain some of the most finger-stained on my shelf. This is not to imply that Horowitz puts no soul into the works that earn him the most money. The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes novel commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate, manages to be heartfelt and touching amidst all the intrigue and action. Written from the perspective of an ageing Dr Watson looking back on his adventures with the famous detective, the pages are tinged with the sadness of his loss.

At 64, Horowitz’s body of work extends to over 45 novels, 12 television shows, three films and countless collections of short stories and essays. One of Britain’s most acclaimed writers shows no signs of slowing down. With two new books scheduled for release in 2018, only time will tell us what new to expect from the many varied worlds of Anthony Horowitz.