The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

One bright spring morning Diana Cowper walks into a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral. Six hours later she is dead, strangled in her own home. It can’t be a coincidence…can it? Detective Inspector Daniel Hawthorne – who is technically no longer with the police but still assists with particularly challenging cases – is called in to investigate. This is to be an investigation with a difference, however, because Hawthorne has enlisted the services of author Anthony Horowitz to write a book about the case.

Horowitz has never written a true-crime book before and admits to being much more comfortable when writing fiction such as his Sherlock Holmes sequel The House of Silk or the Alex Rider young adult series. It is with some reservations, then, that he agrees to write Hawthorne’s story, but as he accompanies the detective while he interviews suspects and searches for clues, Horowitz is drawn into the investigation despite himself.

The two have very different visions for their book; Horowitz believes in using artistic licence to tell a story that people will want to read, but Hawthorne is adamant that he should report only the facts, leaving nothing out that could be of significance. The author also tries in vain to get to know the detective, to shape him into a character who will stand alongside Holmes and Poirot, but the other man remains frustratingly enigmatic:

“Well, if I was going to write about you, you’d have to tell me. 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.”

“Is that what you think?”

“Yes!”

He shook his head. “I don’t agree. The word is murder. That’s what matters.”

I started to read The Word is Murder with very high hopes, having loved Horowitz’s previous novel, Magpie Murders (one of my favourite books of last year). I wasn’t disappointed; this is another great book! In fact, like Magpie Murders – but in a different way – it is almost two books in one. We have the story of Horowitz and his relationship with Hawthorne and then we have the murder investigation itself. I’m aware that I’ve said very little so far about the latter – and I’m not going to say much more, other than that it is a very clever, tightly plotted mystery with plenty of clues, suspects and red herrings. Thanks to Hawthorne’s insistence on everything being written down, most of the clues are there from the beginning and the rest are at least revealed early enough for us to guess the solution before Horowitz does. I have to admit, though, that I was slow to put them together and didn’t come close to solving the mystery!

I should probably make it clear that Diana Cowper is a fictional character – she wasn’t really murdered six hours after arranging her own funeral and Hawthorne, who is also fictional, wasn’t really brought in to investigate. Anthony Horowitz, however, is obviously a real person and so The Word is Murder is a curious blend of fiction and non-fiction. He is not the first author to use themselves as a character in their own novel, but I’m not sure if anyone else has done it in quite the same way!

Although the passages in which Horowitz describes his various writing projects, his appearances at book festivals and his views on literary agents are a bit of a distraction from the central plot at times, his main role in the story is as a sort of Watson-style sidekick, and this aspect of the novel works very well. As for Hawthorne, he has quite an unpleasant personality, being humourless, secretive, pedantic, and – to Horowitz’s disgust – homophobic, but I found him a fascinating character, precisely because he is so unattractive. They are an unlikely pairing but there is plenty of potential here for more Hawthorne/Horowitz mysteries, I think – I would certainly be happy to read them, anyway!

Thanks to the publisher, Random House, for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

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25 thoughts on “The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

  1. Lisa says:

    This probably won’t be released in the US for a while unfortunately, but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

    I was glad to read that this was actually about a fictional murder. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable reading this kind of book about a real human being’s murder.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you don’t have to wait too long for it, Lisa. It really is a clever and creative approach to a murder mystery – I didn’t love it quite as much as Magpie Murders, but it came close. And yes, the murder is definitely fictional!

  2. Nish says:

    I’ve only read Horowitz’s Alex Rider books, and they were nice. But it looks like I should expand and try this and The House of Silk book as well.

  3. FictionFan says:

    I’m about three quarters of the way through it at the moment, and must admit to having more mixed feelings about it than you – I’m not sure about the whole Horowitz-as-character thing. But I’m hoping maybe the last quarter will lift it closer to my expectations after the wonderful Magpie Murders and his Holmesian stories. Glad you enjoyed it so much!

    • Helen says:

      That’s a shame. I really enjoyed this book (though not as much as Magpie Murders) but I can certainly see why you might not be entirely convinced by Horowitz-as-character. I’m glad you think so highly of the Holmes novels – I haven’t read them yet but they are on my TBR. 🙂

  4. Judy Krueger says:

    One of my reading groups is reading The Magpie Murders next. It will be my introduction to Horowitz, except for the fact that when I worked at the bookstore, the Alex Rider series sold like hotcakes and was great for getting reluctant boy readers to read.

    • Helen says:

      I hope you enjoy Magpie Murders, Judy. I don’t know much about the Alex Rider books, but anything that encourages reluctant boys to read must be a good thing. 🙂

  5. Jo says:

    Got this to read, wanting to see how he could follow Magpie Murders, I think this sounds an interesting twist on the normal murder/detective novel.

    • Helen says:

      It is an interesting twist, and one I haven’t come across before in a detective novel. Magpie Murders is still my favourite, but this is a good follow up.

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