Review published on August 30, 2017.
With The Word is Murder, Anthony Horowitz has succeeded in writing an intriguing murder mystery novel about Anthony Horowitz writing a novel about an intriguing murder. It’s an unusual approach that, while somewhat distracting at first, actually serves to enhance the drama and tension of the story, which concerns the death of one Diana Cowper. Now, while her murder no doubt came as a great shock to Diana, it was all the more surprising to the public at large because at eleven o’clock in the morning on the day she died, Diana walked into a funeral parlour and planned her burial service.
It being somewhat unusual to arrange the disposal of your body just prior to your murder, the police force called in their top consultant, a former police officer named Daniel Hawthorne, to help with the investigation. It is through him that Anthony Horowitz became involved in the case, since Hawthorne had served as the police advisor on a television series written by Horowitz. To Horowitz’s displeasure, Hawthorne had stayed loosely in contact and later came to the conclusion that he would make an excellent subject for a book, which he believed should be written by Horowitz. While Horowitz is not keen to work with Hawthorne, he is certainly intrigued by the murder of Diana Cowper as well as rather excited by the opportunity to test his own deductive skills and attempt to identify the killer before Hawthorne does.
The Word is Murder follows Hawthorne and Horowitz as they dig into Diana Cowper’s background and attempt to locate any likely suspects from among her nearest and dearest. The story is narrated by Horowitz, he being the writer after all, in an engaging fashion, although certainly at the beginning of the novel there seemed to be an overabundance of insight into his writing life. However, once the investigation into the murder is in full swing, his asides and reminiscences seem less distracting and, in fact, often help to move the story along. The mixing of fact and fiction also allows Horowitz to have a little fun at the expense of the people in his life, perhaps most notably his agent and his wife. A number of famous faces are also subject to a spot of gentle lampooning, with the meeting between Horowitz, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson (and unwanted extra guest Hawthorne) being particularly cringe worthy.
Yet, although The Word is Murder perhaps features more than its fair share of reality, it is the plotting of the (fictional) murder that is all important in this kind of crime novel and, happily, Horowitz has put together a cleverly twisting mystery featuring plenty of suspicious characters and more than a few red herrings. Trying to solve the crime alongside Horowitz himself (as his theories are quickly shot down by Hawthorne) is a lot of fun and, while the clues are certainly there, the identity of the killer is far from obvious. Hawthorne is a great detective (and Horowitz is not too bad), but he’s not a very likeable character (Hawthorne that is). Actually, he’s irritating, rude, dismissive, self-opinionated and overly secretive (still talking about Hawthorne here), but he’s certainly determined to ensure that justice is served.
The Word is Murder is an unusual murder mystery that might initially seem rather hard to engage with, but it is worth persevering as Horowitz and Hawthorne combine their skills to form a beguiling crime-fighting duo. It is a cleverly plotted as well as highly entertaining book that should cause readers to exercise their little grey cells in an effort to identify the murderer of Diana Cowper.
Erin Britton 4/4
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
Century 9781780896847 hbk Aug 2017
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