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The Word is Murder

June 7, 2018

Before this summer I’d only read one other book by the prolific British author Anthony Horowitz, Moriarty, and that was because Harper Collins had been promoting it and sent me an advance copy. Remembering that I’d enjoyed the mystery in that one, I asked for a copy of his novel newly out in paperback this month, The Word is Murder, when Harper Collins offered it as one of their June titles. I was surprised (and pleased) to find that it’s more than just another murder mystery. It’s a meta-murder-mystery, featuring the story of how the author gets caught up in the hunt for the murderer.

The author is not a generic author figure, either. It’s Anthony Horowitz, including what seem like actual details from his own life, like talking about how excited he is to get to work with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson on the screenplay for Tintin2 and discussing the ideas he got from reading Rebecca West’s The Meaning of Treason for writing future episodes of Foyle’s War.

Horowitz is contacted by a detective who has been fired from the police force but is still working with them, a flinty and secretive character named Hawthorne who tells him that “people like reading about detectives.” Horowitz replies, saying:
“if I was going to write about you…I’d have to know where you live, whether you’re married or not, what you have for breakfast, what you do on your day off. That’s why people read murder stories.”
Hawthorn’s response is to say “I don’t agree. The word is murder. That’s what matters.”
The hapless author is led through each step of investigating the murder by the laconic detective, which adds a faint element of comedy to the otherwise gritty proceedings, especially when Hawthorne is rude to Peter Jackson about the Lord of the Rings movies, saying that he’d watched them with his son and listing the things they’d disliked, including “we didn’t much like those trees. The talking trees. We thought they were stupid.”

The mystery centers around a woman who has been murdered on the same day she had gone to a funeral director to plan her own funeral. She has a son who is a famous actor, and was involved in a hit-and-run auto accident a decade before her own death. One of the red herrings of the novel is the lack of detail surrounding the accident; readers wonder if it was actually the woman, Diana Cowper, driving the car or whether it might have been her actor son, and she was the one to take the blame. This mystery deepens when the son is also murdered, on the day of his mother’s funeral.

Another red herring is offered when the author becomes convinced he knows who did it:
“As soon as I got home, I looked through my notes and found what I was looking for. It was something that Hawthorne had missed–but it had been there all along, in front of our eyes, the reason why both the mother and the son had to die, and it told me precisely who had killed them. In fact it was obvious.”
Reader, it is not obvious. Anthony Horowitz has it wrong, and when he next meets Hawthorne, the detective tries to walk him through some of the steps towards the right answer:
“I don’t buy your theory….and, anyway, there’s all sorts of things you’re forgetting.” He leaves Horowitz, and the reader, with a clue, saying “it was in that rubbish first chapter you showed me. But I think you’ll find that’s what matters most. Everything turns on it.”

Hawthorne ends up having to save the author from the real murderer at the last minute. After the case has been solved, Horowitz includes the detective’s effort to change his mind about the title of the book, even though it was taken from something he himself had said, telling the author “it’s just a bit poncey. It’s not something I’d read on the beach.”

In fact, this is a perfect book for the beach, or wherever you might be headed to relax this summer.


5 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol Schumacher permalink
    June 7, 2018 8:25 pm

    I also liked House of Silk and Magpie Murders by Horowitz.

    • Carol Schumacher permalink
      June 7, 2018 8:26 pm

      I believe Moriarty is a sequel to House of Silk.

  2. June 12, 2018 10:20 pm

    I definitely need to try this one because I enjoyed Magpie Murders – Horowitz is an inventive mystery writer.

    • June 13, 2018 7:56 am

      Yes, I love the way he gives clues while pretending to be misled himself, as a character in his own mystery!

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