03 September 2012

When you want to die, either laughing or in terror

Humour/Thriller, Horror | Anthony Horowitz | Three of Diamonds, Horowitz Horror 1

Anthony Horowitz writes funny thrillers, thrilling funny books and horror stories with equal facility. He does this for teens. For adults, he writes for TV. Personally, I think he enjoys the books for teens more. Or maybe I'm just projecting my own sentiments on the writing, since, to the best of my knowledge, I've never seen any of the TV series he writes for.

To start with, Three of Diamonds. This brings together three of the Diamond Brothers Defective (sic) Agency stories. Nick Diamond, a teen boy, has the most stupid elder brother ever. Tim Diamond fancies himself a detective, with groan-worthily hilarious results. The whole thing from one end to the other is a gag-fest, with a veneer of detectiving as well. It's beautifully done, so that you have a mystery, a logical progress to the solution, and the most insane dialogues and action sequences to take you from one end to the other.

Tim phones up the expiry date on a yoghurt carton. He wants to take pictures of fish in the Chunnel. Escaping from villains, they reach a bridge:
“The river!” I said.
Tim reached into his pocket and took out his camera.
“No!” I yelled. “I don't want you to photograph it! I want us to cross it!”
You have to tell Tim, preferably in short, simple words.

The French Confection  has the Diamond bros win a trip to Paris. Tim's boasting on the train brings a desperate man to them, asking for help. He's murdered. The villains want to know what he told them, and mayhem proceeds from there, via the bridge on the river, a boat on the river, prison, a hotel, kidnapping:
“You have put us to a great deal of trouble,” he went on. “We've searched you and this morning we searched your room. Are you going to tell us where it is?”
“It's on the top floor of the hotel!” Tim exclaimed.
“Not the room!” Bastille swore and choked on his cigarette.
Sorry, I keep laughing over the paragraphs, wherever the book opens. Anyhow, Nick manages to solve the mystery, and Tim remains convinced he (Tim) is the greatest of detectives.

The Blurred Man (yes, Horowitz loves his puns, even though most of the kids who read his books will never have read the originals of the punny titles) has an American who hires the Diamonds to find out what happened to his good friend Lenny Smile, who runs a charity called Dream Time, to which the American novelist has given two million dollars in donations. Just before he was to have met Smile and found out what wonderful work the charity has done, Smile is run over by a roadroller. Why? (Ahem).

I am not going to give you a sample of how Tim interrogates the roadroller driver. I don't like to mistype so many words because I'm laughing too hard.

Anyway, they solve that one, too. Finally, there is I Know What you did Last Wednesday, in which Tim is invited by his millionaire classmate to visit him on an island, along with a bunch of other classmates. Except that they all start getting murdered one by one. You've seen this in a movie, right? And read the Agatha Christie book of the same premise, right? But you cannot beat Tim Diamond at it. Fortunately, Nick insists on going with him, and Tim comes out alive in the end. Not before you find he topped his school in embroidery. Yes, amazing that Tim could actually do something well, isn't it?

Okay, and then I picked up Horowitz Horror 1, which is not funny in the slightest. I checked. A bit of gallows humour once in a while. This is the guy who created an explosive bubble-gum for Alex Rider called Bubble-o seven? Yup. Horowitz writes terrific horror. Just in case you think horror for younger readers is less horrifying than that for adults, well, it's not. It's just as horrifying, if not more, considering that many of the protagonists are kids.

There's Bath Night, a story of a haunted bathtub. Killer Camera kills everything it's used to take a picture of. You don't want to know what the last picture in the story was of. Light Moves is about a kid who gets a haunted computer which can predict horse races, and the consequences of greed. The Night Bus is closer to the conventional kids' horror story, but creepy in its own way. Harriet's Horrible Dream is worthy of George RR Martin or Orson Scott Card, and so horrible I'm skipping onwards. Scared is about the city-kid bully in the country, and reminds me, strangely enough, of Ray Bradbury stories. In A Career in Computer Games, Horowitz tries to make the protagonist as unsympathetic as possible so that we don't mind what happens. Yet, in the end, I felt sorry for the wretch, for whom, let me say, I had no plans to have any sympathy whatsoever. The Man with the Yellow Face has supernatural horror in it, rather Victorian in ambience. The Monkey's Ear is the only story in which Horowitz's inner punster leaks out a bit, and it's a fair tribute to that original of horror stories, The Monkey's Paw.

TL;DR – read Horowitz's books, and don't worry about your chronological age. Horowitz is that worthy YA writer: he never condescends to his reader, and that's what makes his stories so enthralling.

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