Mere hours after the widow Diana Cowper makes her own funeral arrangements, she’s found strangled in her own home. Ex-detective inspector Daniel Hawthorne is called in to investigate. In turn, he calls on the narrator, the author Anthony Horowitz himself, to collaborate on a true-crime account of the case. The Word is Murder is a deliciously complex, delightfully meta twist on a classic whodunit.
“All he saw was the paperwork, the uniforms, the anglepoise lamps. He couldn’t find his way to the story.”
“But in just a couple of weeks, everything had changed. I had allowed myself to become a silent partner, a minor character in my own book! Worse than that, I had somehow persuaded myself that I couldn’t work out a single clue without asking him what was going on.”
The author as the narrating character is a novel way of telling the story, and I quite enjoyed his dry tone and intermingling of fiction and reality. Insider anecdotes about show business and publishing add a little niche pizzazz to the narrative, with plenty of name-dropping and enough truth to leave the reader slightly disoriented. Just where, exactly, is the line between reality and fantasy?
“I could see the books piling up in front of me. Sometimes, when I’m sitting at my desk I feel as if there’s a dump truck behind me. I hear the whirr of its engine and it suddenly off-loads its contents . . . millions and millions of words. They keep cascading down and I wonder how many more words there can possibly be. But I’m powerless to stop them. Words, I suppose, are my life.”
The Word is Murder is a complicated mystery with a satisfyingly unraveled solution, with enough twists that you’re unlikely to figure it out early on. Gruff and bigoted Hawthorne makes a rather unlikeable detective who repels the narrator, but the mystery itself proves too remarkable to resist.
“Hawthorne certainly had a magnetic personality. Although, of course, magnets can repel as well as attract.”
As a mystery writer myself, I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpse this book provides into Horowitz’s process. He effectively makes the reader believe that he was experiencing the mystery both as the author and as an active observer, which made it so much more immersive than your usual whodunnit. Instead of the narrator holding all the facts and revealing them to the reader, it felt as though Horowitz was as in the dark as I was and discovering the truth right along with me.
“In fact, I would have said that at least seventy-five per cent of the most important clues were written down in my notebook. It was just that I hadn’t quite realised their significance.”
As always, reading a book as well-written as this one is, for me, as much an education as it is entertainment. It informs my own writing in an invaluable way. I look forward to more books in this series. Soon to come, my review of the second Horowitz-Hawthorne collaboration, The Sentence is Death.
“There are some people who argue that we are too sensitive these days, that because we’re afraid of causing offence, we no longer engage in any serious sort of argument at all. But that’s how it is. It’s why political chat-shows on television have become so very boring. There are narrow lines between which all public conversations have to take place and even a single poorly chosen word can bring all sorts of trouble down.”