Public Enemy Number Two

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Public Enemy Number Two
2007 edition cover
Author Anthony Horowitz
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series The Diamond Brothers
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Lions (1990)
Walker Books (2007)
Publication date
14 March 1991
Media type Paperback (1990)
Hardback (2005)
OCLC 24698306
Preceded by The Falcon's Malteser
Followed by South By South East

Public Enemy Number Two is a novel written by Anthony Horowitz, the second in The Diamond Brothers series. The main character in the book is Nick Diamond, His older brother Herbert Simple – who goes by the name Tim Diamond – is an unsuccessful private detective. The novel is particularly known for its humour. It is followed by South By South East.


Throughout the novel, there are many characters based on classical cliches in fiction.

Primary characters

  • Nicholas (Nick) Simple, the main character in the story (aged 13)
  • Herbert Simple aka Tim Diamond, Nick's older brother who works as a private detective
  • Peregrine Palis, Nick's new French teacher who is eventually revealed to be criminal mastermind known as "The Fence"
  • Johnny Powers, England's most notorious teenage criminal (aged 15)

Secondary characters

  • Chief Inspector Snape of New Scotland Yard, who has enlisted the help of Nick on several occasions to catch wanted criminals
  • Boyle, Inspector Snape's deputy
  • Ma Powers, Johnny's mother
  • Nails Nathan, Johnny's unhelpful sidekick


  • Nick Simple
  • Herbert Simple
  • Chief Inspector Snape
  • Boyle


  • Johnny Powers
  • Nails Nathan
  • Ma Powers
  • Big Ed
  • Big Ed's gang
  • Johnny Powers' gang
  • And, last but certainly not least, the Fence


The story starts when Nick Simple is in school detention and is visited by police officers Snape and Boyle. They request that Nick go to Strangeday Hall, a Juvenile Delinquent prison for young offenders and befriend the inmate Johnny Powers, a gang leader known as Public Enemy Number One, and through him find out about The Fence, a major gangster that controls all the buying and selling of stolen goods in London with whom Johnny is affiliated with. Nick refuses and the police leave.

On a school field trip to Woburn Abbey, Nick is framed for attempting to steal the Woburn Carbuncles, and despite his attempts to evade police, arrested and sentenced to 18 months at Strangeday Hall. He has to share a cell with Johnny Powers, just as Snape and Boyle wanted. Soon after he arrives Snape and Boyle reveal that they arranged to have Nick framed. Nick manages to gain Johnny's trust after he saves him from being killed by henchmen of another gang leader, Big Ed.

Nick and Johnny escape prison with the help of Tim Diamond, Nick's brother, and Ma Powers, Johnny's mother. They get in a car chase with the police but escape, but during the chase, Snape and Boyle are apparently killed, leaving Nick believing that he's the only person alive who knows he's innocent. Nick and Tim stay at Johnny's home for a while, until Nick overhears Johnny telling Ma that he is going to see Penelope. Believing Penelope to be the Fence, Nick follows Johnny into the Wapping Subway station but loses him there. After making his way out onto the street, he is then captured by henchmen of Big Ed, who later tie him to a train track, intending for him to be run over by a train.

Before Nick can be killed, a man approaches Nick and helps him from the tracks just before the train passes. Nick knows that he had seen that man before, but doesn't know where. To prove his loyalty to Johnny, and take revenge on Ed, Nick burns the train car in which they reside by emptying an oil drum and starting a fire. Nick decides that he must go back to Johnny and Tim, as they will surely be wondering where is by now. But he is still determined to find the Fence, in the hope of using him to barter his freedom. Nick realises that Palis, his French teacher, could have seen Snape and Boyle on the afternoon that he was serving a detention. He heads for Paliss' flat in Chelsea but is nearly caught by the police there; they had spotted him in a nearby street. Palis saves him, and Nick explains his mission to him. He stays the night at Palis’s flat. Palis drives Nick back to Wapping the following morning and tells him to get in touch if he needs anything. At the hideout, Nick sees a doorbell. Not recalling one, he sneaks into the house and rescues Tim from a bomb rigged to go off if the newly installed bell had been rung.

Tim then explains that Johnny had come back the previous afternoon from wherever he had been to find Nick gone. They hadn't liked his answers, and in the night Johnny dragged Tim out of bed and tied him up before rigging the bomb. Nick and Tim discover that "Penelope" is actually a boat, and decide to keep a watch on the Penelope from a nearby derelict house. After seeing men storing objects aboard the Penelope, Nick remembers that Johnny 'went to Penelope' through Wapping Tube Station. Nick and Tim go there and discover a secret entrance to a tunnel, which Johnny lost Nick through. The tunnel leads under the River Thames to the Fence's hideout where the brothers see many valuable stolen articles.

They then encounter Nails Nathan, and Johnny appears on the scene, aware that Nick is working for the police. He ties them up and locks them in a room, but they soon escape. Nick has brought the bomb with him in his backpack, and uses it to destroy the door to the room they are locked in. On their way out, Johnny re-appears and is ready to shoot Nick and Tim, but they are stopped by Snape and a group of armed policemen, who have been tracking Nick through the tracking device in his prison shoes since he escaped. Snape, who survived the crash uninjured, is intent on arresting Powers and his gang, but the roof of the underground den collapses. Ultimately, Nick and Tim survive, Ma Powers is arrested, but Johnny and the Fence escape, although their operation is destroyed. Nick is subsequently cleared of all charges.

After Nick returns to school, he is sitting in a French lesson when Palis instructs Nick to translate a French paragraph. While doing so, Nick realises from the message he reads that Palis is the Fence, and that Palis had told the truth of him to Johnny. At the end of the lesson, Palis announces to the class that he is leaving. He dismisses the whole class except Nick, who realises that Palis wants to kill him. Palis chases Nick to the school's roof with a gun, but wastes all his bullets trying to kill him. Palis attempts to grab Nick, but jumps off the building, and dies when he impales himself on a fence. With Palis dead, the story ends with Nick's troubles over - for the time being.