Book Review: Never Say Die, by Anthony Horowitz

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_never_say_dieAfter reading the first few chapters of Never Say Die I got the distinct impression that Alex Rider is a bit of a young adult version of Ian Fleming’s James Bond – tied to MI6, frequenting exotic places, going up against formidable enemies, the odds being seemingly unfavorable, but of course eventually saving the day. However, the similarities end there between James Bond and Alex Rider. Despite being an asset in some capacity to MI6, Alex Rider is just 15 years old, making the novels just a bit more younger-person friendly. There is an element of unrealism because of the main character’s lack of years, but it was still a really enjoyable story.

As the latest addition to the Alex Rider series, Never Say Die sets the scene with an elaborate crime in Sullfolk, England, with seemingly no real motive or explanation, and the main character thousands of miles away in San Francisco. In the following chapter the crime is then suddenly pushed aside and focuses on Alex Rider, who is struggling to recover from experiences in the novel previous. Those traumatic events are progressively given more detail as Alex takes steps to reconcile the past and solve the mystery that still remains, all the while crossing paths with dangerous criminals not only seeking revenge but also plotting an act of terrorism.

Never Say Die includes plenty of action that go along with a typical spy novel but there are also more complicated elements within to back up the plausibility of the situation. It was at times a bit young but it was understandable given the audience the Alex Rider series is aimed at. That being said it could have easily been a lot more corny but Anthony Horowitz is successful as a whole in the balance he has maintained for such a series – innocent enough to be a young adults novel, but still exciting to actually be worthwhile reading; in my opinion any age group will enjoy Never Say Die.

Reviewed by Sarah Hayward

Never Say Die
by Anthony Horowitz
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406377040

AWF15: Bond and Beyond, with Anthony Horowitz

Michael Williams introduced Horowitz as “a master of life and death.” Horowitz’s backlist is huge, between his TV writing and his novel writing, for teenagers, and for adults. He is best known to me as the author of the best-selling Alex Rider series, familiar from when I worked at the airport bookstore and managed the children’s section. He was the lead writer of Foyle’s War, had previously written episodes of Midsomer Murder (of which he said “I wrote seven episodes of Midsomer, before I realised that everybody in the town was already dead.”

The session was a truly dynamic interaction between author and chair – Michael Williams runs the Wheeler Centre, and is clearly a long-term fan of Horowitz. Saying that, Horowitz himself was a frenetic presence, talking at a rate of knots about his writing, and never without an answer (except when it came to future Tintin movies. “Hollywood producers are horrible and scary,” and he is not sure if anything came of the other scripts he wrote for Tintin, but as it didn’t do well enough in the USA, they are unlikely to see the light of day.

Horowitz had a terrible time at boarding school, and reading, and making up stories for the other boys in his dorm, were his escape. Many a brilliant career has been borne of this trope. He acknowledged that in writing Alex Rider he was writing the story of the childhood he never had, and posed the question of himself whether he would have preferred a happy childhood, or 96 million books sold?!

In writing in other authors’ voices, Horowitz sees his job as to be invisible. He is more than happy to follow where his favourite authors – Ian Fleming, Arthur Conan Doyle – lead him, and to merge his style with theirs. Sometimes too successfully, according to his wife, who made him take some of the sexism out of House of Silk. This is the challenge, to bring these authors up to date with current opinions, without taking way from their style, or making it his own in any way.

Williams asked Horowitz why it is we love whodunits so much, to which he answered it was to do with our desires to twitch back the lace curtains of the house next door and watch the less pleasant parts of human nature play out. Sounds like  why others watch reality TV to me!

When speaking about Tintin, Horowitz said, it was very hard to get the motion of Tintin and the suspense onto a screenplay, because Herge was such a genius with his pacing. He was never credited for his script, though he didn’t explain this beyond creative differences with Speilberg, but he did enjoy meeting Peter Jackson very much, and visiting his secret room. Horowitz was the type of child who knocked on walls to see if they were false – I wanted to yell out ‘me, too!’

Horowitz struck me as an incredibly generous writer. To be able to write for yourself, and on behalf of others (which is in a way how he approached his Bond and Sherlock stories) shows a generosity of spirit rarely seen. He had a few pieces of advice for young writers: Read everything, do something naughty but don’t get caught, and believe in yourself. He pointed out that it takes hard work (and in his case, 15 books) to get to the big time, but it is worth it if you believe in yourself.

I will be seeking out Horowitz and reading as many as I can, and passing them to my boys as they grow older.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster