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BookBrowse Reviews The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

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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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  • First Published:
    Jun 2018, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2019, 432 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Meara Conner
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Murder. Intrigue. A potential true crime book? A distinguished novelist and a surly detective join forces to solve the homicide of an affluent London matron.

A wealthy widow enters a London funeral home to make arrangements for her own funeral. Six hours later, she is strangled in her apartment with a cord from her own curtains, and the killer is gone.

Anthony Horowitz's latest release places him not only in the role of author, but also character. The first in a new series, The Word Is Murder follows ex-detective Daniel Hawthorne as he consults on a case beyond the capabilities of the London police. Low on funds, Hawthorne contacts his old acquaintance, Horowitz, to see if he'd be interested in writing a true-crime book about this current case – the murder of Diana Cowper, a widow with a suspicious past. Horowitz dubiously accepts and the two embark on an investigation that takes them from central London to the English seaside in search of Mrs. Cowper's killer. Hawthorne, self-assured in his ability to crack the case with ease, is certain he knows exactly where the trail leads, but in a mystery with this many twists and turns, even he may not be able to predict its ending.

The novel's central relationship is between Hawthorne and Horowitz, our highly-antagonistic version of Sherlock and Watson. Hawthorne is, at first glance, just another anti-social, highly intelligent, able-to-guess-what-you-ate-for-breakfast-based-on-your-shoes private detective. Though it might appear formulaic, this character archetype is popular for a reason. We enjoy seeing our lead detective guessing obscure facts about people he meets on the street and getting snarky with the other characters; part of the appeal of the archetype is the way his intelligence allows him leeway to operate outside of social conventions. However, because Horowitz is using Hawthorne's case as a basis for a book, it becomes necessary for him to dig deeply into Hawthorne's past and his personality in order to create a realistic and likable representation of him between the pages. This gives Horowitz (the character) an excuse to ask questions about Hawthorne beyond the persona he puts on for the public, and provides Horowitz (the author) a method of satiating the audience's curiosity about this enigmatic man. This is a smart choice on Horowitz the author's part, as it serves to prevent Hawthorne from being defined by the character type. As Horowitz learns more about him, so does the audience, and both begin to appreciate and like him more.

The Word is Murder primarily stands out from the mystery genre crowd because of its ingenious meta style. Horowitz writes as if the events of the novel actually occurred, with some chapters even being written as if they were part of the later-published true-crime book about the Cowper murder. This risky set-up entirely pays off largely due to Horowitz's skillful interweaving of fact and fiction. Unsurprisingly, in a novel in which writing plays a large role, the sections in which Horowitz describes his experience as a writer are among the best, likely because they are the most auto-biographical. This leaves him open to comment on the real-life difficulties of being a writer, as well as speak about his love for the craft. In one hilarious scene, he recounts an actual meeting that took place between himself, Steven Spielberg, and Peter Jackson, in which the two men essentially throw out the movie script that Horowitz had just spent months working on. It's real moments like that one that, despite its dramatic plot, keep the novel grounded.

In the face of Horowitz's excellent character development, the mystery itself is somewhat left by the wayside. Horowitz and Hawthorne's investigation largely consists of going to various people's homes around London and interviewing them. After about five or six of these exchanges, it's easy to think the plot isn't going anywhere; the novel doesn't really pick up its pace until about halfway through. However, once it does reach that point, you will turn the pages fast, particularly once you reach the shocking conclusion.

Despite that small gripe, Horowitz's latest remains an immensely compelling read, both because of its portrayals of the two leads and its insight into the world of book development. The Word is Murder is a great start to what promises to be a highly entertaining mystery series.

Reviewed by Meara Conner

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in June 2018, and has been updated for the May 2019 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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