I reviewed The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz last year. I very much enjoyed the novel but was a little disoriented initially… as it was (kinda) a novel within a novel.
His new release, The Word is Murder is similar. And though – in many ways – this book by Horowitz is clever, I found myself a bit distracted (from his excellent writing) by the fact vs fictional elements on offer.
The Word Is Murder
by Anthony Horowitz
Published by Random House UK
on August 24th 2017
Genres: Crime Fiction
ISBN: 1780896840, 9781780896847
A wealthy woman strangled six hours after she’s arranged her own funeral.
A very private detective uncovering secrets but hiding his own.
A reluctant author drawn into a story he can’t control.
What do they have in common?
Unexpected death, an unsolved mystery and a trail of bloody clues lie at the heart of Anthony Horowitz's page-turning new thriller.
SPREAD THE WORD. THE WORD IS MURDER.
I mentioned, in my review of The Magpie Murders, that Horowitz’s writing was very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s. And I was struck by the same thing as this book opens and we’re offered very detailed descriptions of the early events.
And – as a lover of words and the way they’re (sometimes) strung together – I was bewitched by his prose…
She found herself in a small reception areas with two sofas, a low table, and a few shelves with books that had that peculiar sense of sadness that comes with being unread. p 2
.. 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. p 3
It was a bit jolting then when we’re lifted out of this quite magical world and mesmerising tone into REAL LIFE. And not just a novel within a novel, as was the case with The Magpie Murders… but we move into non-fiction. Sort of.
Indeed, my notes from this part of the novel wonder if I’m now reading a Foreword as we hear directly from the author.
We discover that Horowitz himself has been approached by a former (disgraced) Metropolitan Police detective now police consultant and occasional television / movie advisor re police procedure. The pair met previously during a TV show and Horowitz was less-than enamoured with the arrogant and prickly ex-cop Hawthorne (one-name-only).
It’s Hawthorne who’s investigating the case of a woman murdered on the same day she plans her funeral and – for reasons I can only presume to be arrogance and a lust for money – approaches Horowitz to document the investigation and publish a book… sharing the proceeds with Hawthorne. Horowitz already has a lot on his plate and though he hates the idea of working with the unlikeable man, finds himself intrigued by the story and signs on.
So we switch into first person now as Horowitz narrates the rest of the book. He pens the first chapter or two (which we read before knowing what’s happening) and shares them with Hawthorne who – predictably hates them because of the poetic licence Horowitz has taken. (And yet, they were my favourite parts of this book!)
Hawthorne is very (VERY) Sherlock Holmes-esque. He deduces all sorts of things from people’s appearances noticing dog hair, crumpled suits and the like and every time Horowitz feels he has the jump on his investigative partner he’s gazzumped by the former detective.
I note I mention in my review of The Magpie Murders that Horowitz dives into the world of television, literature and so forth which is something he knows well. In that case through his characters, but here through himself and the plot directly. In fact, it’s probably the thing I found most distracting. He refers to real TV shows and people… indeed our murdered woman’s son (Damian Cowper) is about to star in a TV show called Homeland. Huh? (Damien Lewis starred in the first season or two of that TV show for those not in the know.)
Hence my distraction; confused as to whether I was reading non-fiction or fiction. I know it shouldn’t matter but the fact it did was a sign I wasn’t as engaged as I could have been.
Interestingly Horowitz writes about being approached by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate to write a Sherlock Holmes sequel (and he’s also written a Trigger Mortis featuring James Bond as well as the TV show, Poirot). He says…
It struck me from the very start that my job was to be invisible. I tried to hide myself in Doyle’s shadow, to imitate his literary tropes and mannerisms, but never, as it were, to intrude. p 12
And it’s only on writing this review that I realise that perhaps THAT is both Horowitz’s strength and weakness. He’s a good storyteller and (better) writer. He can emulate the greats: Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle and so forth… but I wonder if my struggle (particularly here) is knowing or getting a sense of HIS voice when he moves away from imitating others.
When I looked back at my review of The Magpie Murders I comment on Horowitz’s writing and again, it’s a standout. I understand he is the author of a (Alex Rider) teen spy series which I gather is well-received. I know I’m hardly an aficionado or expert in all-things-literary but I can’t help but wonder if he’s yet to find his own voice when it comes to adult fiction (involving his own creations).
Of course I don’t want to downplay the intriguing (and quite clever) nature of this book but guess I’m looking forward to where Horowitz goes next.
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz was published by Penguin Random House UK (Cornerstone) and is now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.