Excerpt from The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Word Is Murder

by Anthony Horowitz

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz X
The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz
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  • Published:
    Jun 2018, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Meara Conner

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One
Funeral Plans

Just after eleven o'clock on a bright spring morning, the sort of day when the sunshine is almost white and promises a warmth that it doesn't quite deliver, Diana Cowper crossed the Fulham Road and went into a funeral parlour.

She was a short, very business- like woman: there was a sense of determination in her eyes, her sharply cut hair, the very way she walked. If you saw her coming, your first instinct would be to step aside and let her pass. And yet there was nothing unkind about her. She was in her sixties with a pleasant, round face. She was expensively dressed, her pale raincoat hanging open to reveal a pink jersey and grey skirt. She wore a heavy bead-and-stone necklace which might or might not have been expensive and a number of diamond rings that most certainly were. There were plenty of women like her in the streets of Fulham and South Kensington. She might have been on her way to lunch or to an art gallery.

The funeral parlour was called Cornwallis and Sons. It stood at the end of a terrace, with the name painted in a classical font both on the front of the building and down the side so that you would notice it from whichever direction you were coming. The two inscriptions were prevented from meeting in the middle by a Victorian clock which was mounted above the front door and which had come to a stop, perhaps appropriately, at 11.59. One minute to midnight. Beneath the name, again printed twice, was the legend: Independent Funeral Directors: A Family Business since 1820. There were three windows looking out over the street, two of them curtained, the third empty but for an open book made of marble, engraved with a quotation: When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions. All the wood – the window frames, the frontage, the main door – was painted a dark blue, nudging black.

As Mrs Cowper opened the door, a bell on an old- fashioned spring mechanism sounded loudly, once. She found herself in a small reception area with two sofas, a low table and a few shelves with books that had that peculiar sense of sadness that comes with being unread. A staircase led up to the other floors. A narrow corridor stretched ahead.

Almost at once, a woman appeared, stout, with thick legs and heavy, black leather shoes, coming down the stairs. She was smiling pleasantly, politely. The smile acknowledged that this was a delicate, painful business but that it would be expedited with calm and efficiency. Her name was Irene Laws. She was the personal assistant to Robert Cornwallis, the funeral director, and also acted as his receptionist.

'Good morning. Can I help you?' she asked.

'Yes. I would like to arrange a funeral.'

'Are you here on behalf of someone who has died recently?' The word 'died' was instructive. Not 'passed away'. Not 'deceased'. She had made it her business practice to speak plainly, recognising that, at the end of the day, it was less painful for all concerned.

'No,' Mrs Cowper replied. 'It's for myself.'

'I see.' Irene Laws didn't blink – and why should she? It was not at all uncommon for people to arrange their own funerals. 'Do you have an appointment?' she asked.

'No. I didn't know I'd need one.'

'I'll see if Mr Cornwallis is free. Please take a seat. Would you like a cup of tea or coffee?'

'No, thank you.'

Diana Cowper sat down. Irene Laws disappeared down the corridor, reappearing a few minutes later behind a man who so exactly suited the image of the funeral director that he could have been playing the part. There was, of course, the obligatory dark suit and sombre tie. But the very way he stood seemed to suggest that he was apologising for having to be there. His hands were clasped together in a gesture of profound regret. His face was crumpled, mournful, not helped by hair that had thinned to the edge of baldness and a beard that had the look of a failed experiment. He wore tinted spectacles that were sinking into the bridge of his nose, not just framing his eyes but masking them. He was about forty years old. He too was smiling.

From the book: The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz. Copyright © 2018 by Anthony Horowitz. Reprinted courtesy of Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

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