Diana Cowper, the mother of the famous actor Damian Cowper, enters a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral. Six hours later, she’s murdered in her own home.
Enter ex-Detective Hawthorne. This deeply unlikable man is set on solving the mystery of this murder and invites Anthony Horowitz to join him. That’s right, Anthony Horowitz has put himself into his own book in the role of the Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock. He inveigles Anthony to write the book and share the profits fifty-fifty. Against his better judgement, Anthony agrees. Hence the book, The Word is Murder.
Just to be clear…
Quick clarification – this is not true crime. This is fiction, presented as true crime. There is no Diana Cowper, no Damian Cowper, no Detective Hawthorne.
I’m suddenly a little sceptical if there’s even an Anthony Horowitz at this point.
I have a lot of mixed feelings about this book. Let’s start with the positives.
First of all, it’s Anthony Horowitz. The man makes a success of everything he writes. I’ve loved his work since I was a child and he’s no stranger to murder mysteries, haven’t spent a great deal of his career writing the television series Foyle’s War.
The mystery is riveting and goes through many twists and turns. So many times I felt as though I’d guessed the murder, only to have my expectations dashed. And, unlike some mysteries I’ve read, I didn’t feel cheated by the eventual answer. It was an appropriately climactic moment which had me gripped until the end.
I would totally recommend this book for any crime fan.
Horowitz also manages to create a massively unlikeable character in the form of Detective Hawthorne, but not to the extent that I wanted to put the book down. Quite a fine line. Besides, I’ve never understood the fashionable obsession with ‘likeable’ characters. After all, if anyone lists Vladimir Nabokov’s Humbert as one of their favourite literary characters, they really need to be on some sort of list – and yet, Lolita is a classic.
Horowitz has blended the real world and the fictional world in a truely fascinating way. Apparently, everything in the book is fictional, except for the many and frequent facts about Horowitz and his life.
And it drove me crazy.
Maybe I was thinking about it way too much, but every instant there was a real life-fiction clash, it would violently take me out of the story. At one point in the book, Horowitz was having a meeting with Spielberg and Peter Jackson about the Tintin movie. Which would have happened – Horowitz wrote the script for the second Tintin movie which was never produced. Then, Hawthorne bursts into the room and starts telling Spielberg about their murder case.
And the mind boggles.
This kind of interweaving of reality and fiction isn’t completely unique.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, frequently used real streets, real restaurants and gentlemen’s clubs in his stories. He even says that Sherlock Holmes is related to the real-life painter Johannes Vermeer. This blurring of fact and fiction is probably why Doyle received so many letters addressed to Holmes himself. Besides, you only have to look at an image of Doyle to know he was, in fact, Watson.
What baffles me is why Horowitz couldn’t have just created a Watson and why he felt the need to put himself in a book.
However, Horowitz is a successful, talented, versatile and probably rich writer. He can write whatever he likes. And I couldn’t possibly say I thought the way he approached this was wrong, so I’m just going to say it’s a style I simply can’t get on with.
I’m going to have to give this a three-stars. If you need to be reminding on how I rate books, you can click here. But basically, while I enjoyed it and read through to the end, I probably won’t read it again. This is one of those books I’ll happily recommend and lend out my copy, though not be too worried about it coming back.
He’s written a sequel – The Sentence is Death. I’ll probably be giving it a miss.