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THE WORD IS MURDER
by Anthony Horowitz
Harper, June 2018
400 pages
$27.99
ISBN: 0062676784


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

After two forays into Sherlockiana, one James Bond, and an Agatha Christie flavoured Golden Age village mystery, Anthony Horowitz finally writes himself into his current novel as Watsonian narrator to a contemporary Sherlock named Hawthorne. Hawthorne, Horowitz informs us, was his model for the unpleasant DI played by Charlie Creed-Miles in the TV series Injustice. Hawthorne has been made to retire from the police and now approaches Horowitz with a proposition: he wants the author to write a book about him. Horowitz is to shadow Hawthorne on a case, keep his mouth shut, and take notes. When Hawthorne solves the case, Horowitz will write it up, publish it, and they'll split the profits fifty-fifty. Simple.

The case in question is described in (what else?) a prologue. Diana Cowper, an evidently well-off woman in her 60s, walks into a funeral parlour to arrange her funeral. Nothing odd there - many people make their own arrangements long before the occasion arises. She's thought the matter through, arrives with notes, explains her desires, and leaves for an early lunch. Then off to a meeting of the Globe Theatre board, of which she is member. She gets home around six and someone strangles her a half-hour later. Now that is decidedly odd - who gets murdered on the same day that she arranges her own funeral?

This account will be subject to revision in a few pages; it is this sort of metafictional manipulation that characterizes the entire enterprise. The narrator/author presents himself as Horowitz and provides enough verifiable detail to make the identification plausible. It also provides the opportunity for Horowitz to include some teasing factoids of life as a successful author. But do-not-call-me-Tony Horowitz gives little away. As for his employer, Hawthorne, his first appearance with his amanuensis begins in classic Sherlockian style:

"'You been in the country?'

As it happened, I'd got back from Suffolk that very morning....'Yes,' I said warily.

'And you got a new puppy!'

I looked at him curiously. This was absolutely typical of him. I hadn't told anyone that I'd been out of London. I certainly hadn't tweeted about it. As for the puppy, it belonged to the neighbours....'How do you know all that?' I asked.

'It was just an educated guess.' He waved my question aside."

But shortly thereafter, he will explain it all in that intensely irritating Holmesian fashion that relies on close observation. Happily, Horowitz keeps this sort of thing to a minimum.

Readers who have seen and enjoyed Midsommer Murders, the early episodes of which were written by Horowitz, will probably feel at home with the plot of this book as it unfolds in a familiar fashion, especially in the matter of motive. For it is a "whydunnit" more than a whodunnit. Indeed the author boldly tips the careful reader off as to the identity of the "who" quite early on. The "why," however, remains more elusive and perhaps more melodramatic than convincing.

Horowitz has suggested that THE WORD IS MURDER may represent just the first in a lengthy series centring on the fictional Hawthorne/semi-fictional Horowitz duo. It is the latter character that may present more of a problem than the testy detective, since it seems likely that Horowitz may well run out of his supply of semi-autobiographical tidbits before he is able to develop his fictional writer self as a viable character. In short, it's a diverting concept, but one that may lack legs.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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