Two Reviews

The Word Is Murder
Anthony Horowitz

When our boys were younger, they read all of the Alex Rider series of books by Anthony Horowitz, and they were hooked. One after another, they devoured them.

It wasn't until I was given this crime genre novel for a present that I realised that Anthony Horowitz had actually written some adult novels, too. This was the fifth, and I'd been oblivious to it. The author narrates the story of a woman murdered the same day she arranges her own funeral. Is it a coincidence or is there something more devious at hand?

This is a crime story, but not so much just a work of fiction, but also a mix of true crime.

The narrator, Anthony Horowitz himself, is recruited by a private detective, Hawthorne, to write the story of the woman's death through the detective's own eyes, focussing on Hawthorne as the character able to solve the crime, while he feels the police don't appear to be able to.

As is the case with any crime novel, a number of suspects are interviewed by Hawthorne, with Horowitz tagging along to watch his methods and his path of decision making in determining the where, who and why of the murder. Was it the son, the daughter in law, one of the parents of a child killed in a car accident, or another suspect? And why? But also, like other novels, there is more to a single crime than meets the eye, and Hawthorne suggests to Horowitz that being a detective is much more than the simple suggestions Horowitz makes.

There are a few very funny moments, something that you would not expect in a crime novel, but they are beautifully woven into this very serious story line.

It is soon apparent, that while not everyone is straight forward when it comes to the truth, even in terms of Hawthorne himself, there is really only one murderer in this murderous book.

Can Hawthorne solve the murder, following a different path to the police? Or will the police render him and his narration in his yet-to-be-published book useless? Hawthorne’s and Horowitz’s relationship throughout the book can be rather strained. Will Horowitz be able to cope with Hawthorne's brash nature and his unscrupulous ways?

Horowitz also weaves some of his real life as a writer into this book. He meets with important movie producers and directors, a section which I know our youngest son, and film buff extraordinaire, would thoroughly enjoy reading. Will this book he's been coerced into writing help or hinder his career as an author?

I found the book fascinating. It was a different kind of crime book, with a variety of funny, serious and sometimes scary sections along the way. Once I finally got started on it, I found it hard to stop and I read it in a matter of days. It is certainly one of the best and most diverse crime books I have read and I would thoroughly recommend it. It was only right near the end that I could see the path Hawthorne was following. The ending was very unexpected, and yet I should have seen it coming.

I can see now why Horowitz is so good at getting young boys, in particular, constantly turning the pages and coming back for more. I will certainly be looking at Horowitz's other books in the light of this one. A brilliant and entertaining read!

This is the second Anthony Horowitz murder mystery I’ve read this year. Magpie Murders was a great mystery, and this one was even better. Magpie Murders was more a homage to Christie and other writers from the Golden Age. The Word Is Murder is in a different style, with Horowitz writing in the first person as a main character in a murder he has been dragged into by an associate. He becomes the Watson to the main detective’s Holmes.

The main detective is Hawthorne, a former police detective who has been fired, but is occasionally contracted back to the police to work on more difficult cases. Hawthorne was an advisor on Foyle’s War, a TV series Horowitz created and wrote, and he has decided that he would be a great character in a new book series. So he proposes a partnership to Horowitz – he provides the story and Horowitz does the writing. And he has just been called in on a new case, one that might be intriguing enough to be the first book. A widow in her sixties has been murdered, found strangled in her home with evidence of a burglary. It looks like a straightforward case, but strangely the woman had visited a funeral parlour earlier in the day and had arranged all the details of her own funeral. Coincidence, or did she know she was going to die?

Horowitz is a busy writer and has many projects he should be working on. His main focus recently has been the first draft of a script for Tintin 2, to be produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Peter Jackson; a once in a lifetime opportunity he certainly doesn’t want to miss. And he doesn’t even like Hawthorne, so he should have turned him down flat. But somehow, he is drawn into the story.

Horowitz has produced a clever blend of fact and fiction with this story, with anecdotes about his work scattered throughout. I have loved many of the TV series Horowitz has worked on, like Foyle’s War, Midsommer Murders and Poirot, so I liked his occasional little references to them. That he was a writer for Poirot is interesting – both this book and Magpie Murders show the influence of Agatha Christie. Earlier this year I read a new Poirot story, Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah. I very much get the feeling from Horowitz’s books that he would have produced a much better book than Hannah’s. He seems to have the same skill Christie did of crafting a convincing mystery where everything eventually fits together.

Although the links to Christie are obvious, the relationship between Hawthorne and Horowitz is more like that of Holmes and Watson. Hawthorne is this brilliant detective who makes the most amazing deductions (like guessing that Horowitz had a new puppy, from noticing some dog hairs in his clothes and that his shoelaces were chewed). Like Holmes, Hawthorne is a loner who doesn’t work well with other people. Horowitz wants to prove that he is smarter than Hawthorne, and tries to work out the mystery himself. And like Watson, he either draws entirely the wrong conclusion each time, or gets there six chapters after Hawthorne. The relationship between the two of them is great.

There is a brilliant scene where Horowitz meets with Spielberg and Jackson to discuss his draft Tintin script. Horowitz has such high hopes for the meeting, but things start badly when Spielberg opens by telling him he chose the wrong Tintin to adapt, and it all goes downhill when Hawthorne interrupts the meeting to drag Horowitz back to their case.

A perfect modern murder mystery, highly recommended.

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The Sentence is Death
The Sentence is Death continues the pairing of Hawthorne and Horowitz as a modern version of the Holmes and Watson pairing. Click on the image to read our review of the second book.
Anthony Horowitz