The Word is Murder

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Written by Anthony Horowitz — Here at Crime Fiction Lover we always get really excited when Horowitz has another novel published – for one thing reviews of his books are some of the most frequently visited pages on the site. It seems people can’t get enough of him – he’s a fantastically successful screenwriter (see Foyle’s War) and a best-selling novelist. Indeed, when Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate chose, for the fist time, to authorise an official Sherlock Holmes novel, it was Horowitz they turned to and you can read our review of The House of Silk here.

His latest novel is a murder mystery set in contemporary London, but with an unusual twist – the author himself is one of the main characters. In fact, Horowitz provides the first person narration.

Daniel Hawthorne is a professional acquaintance of his. When Horowitz needs professional advice about criminal investigation procedure, he turns to this ex-MET detective. Hawthorne has always struck him as a cold fish, aloof to the point of rudeness, and when Hawthorne proposes a book about his latest case, splitting the profit 50:50 with the author, he is minded to decline. He knows little about the man, other than that he was dismissed from the force but is still sometimes brought in as a consultant due to his expertise in murder investigations. Despite his misgivings, once Horowitz hears the broad details of the case he’s compelled to find out more.

Wealthy middle-aged widow Diana Cowper has been found dead at her London home. Just six hours before the estimated time of death, she was alive and well and arranging her own funeral. Robbery, despite her wealth, does not seem to have been a motive. However, in the past she was involved in a car accident in which killed a young boy and another left severely disabled. More recently, she may have been the victim of fraud. Meanwhile, her son is a famous actor living in Hollywood, though not everything in his charmed life is as rosy as it seems.

The deal the two men reach is that Horowitz will shadow Hawthorne’s investigation – a silent witness at his side who (or so Hawthorne believes) will record his endeavour without artistic embellishment, and produce an honest depiction of a murder investigation.

The mystery of Diana Cowper’s death plays out to become a good, fair puzzle. When the killer and their motivation are revealed you’ll find that no tricks have been used against us readers, no essential information held back nor any sudden, late revelations. For what it’s worth, I didn’t work out who the killer was.

But there’s far more to The Word is Murder than the mystery itself. The book is about writing – the writing life, the business of it and, most of all, what makes a good story. The humorous arguments between the men about Horowitz’s need to learn more about his subject, and Hawthorne’s insistence that he stick to the facts, are just some of the many examples where the author is really telling us what he thinks is important in storytelling. Sometimes this is disguised as part of the narrative, while at other points he opens up about topics like The House of Silk, directly reminiscing about his career to date. It’s a unique blend of mystery and memoir.

This is confident writing by an author with an established voice, at the top of his game. Going back to the beginning, and the scene where Horowitz debates with himself whether or not to get on board with Hawthorne and follow his investigation, what he’s really doing is challenging us and saying, “Have I not hooked you with just a few short sentences the way Hawthorne has hooked me?”

And, of course, I was hooked, I stayed to the end, and it was a delight.

Anthony Horowitz may have a huge reputation thanks to his Alex Rider series of young adult mysteries, but his most recent novels have been for adults. See our reviews of Trigger MortisMoriarty, and Magpie Murders.


CFL Rating: 5 Stars

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