Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
Anthony Horowitz is one of the busiest and most inventive writers in his country, constantly trying the push the boundaries of literary techniques for our amusement. In The Word is Murder he once again takes a unique path, writing himself into his own novel as the sidekick and chronicler of disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne. Together, they try to unravel the peculiar case of a woman who is found dead six hours after arranging her own funeral service.
Table of contents
Anthony Horowitz Begins the Hawthorne Chronicles
The distinction between fiction and non-fiction, I’d like to believe, is clear enough where I don’t need to explain it. When we read fictional novels, we do so to distance ourselves from reality, to entertain ourselves with hypothetical scenarios which happen to people who aren’t real. However, we can never help but imagine how we ourselves would fare in those stories, and Anthony Horowitz set out to find out just this in The Word is Murder, the first novel in the Detective Hawthorne Series.
The whole ordeal begins on a mundane morning in London, where Diana Cowper enters a funeral parlour in order to arrange her own service. Mother to a famous actor, it seems unthinkable to most she would leave the realms of the living soon. Nevertheless, six hours later, she is found strangled to death by a curtain cord in her very own home. While the verdict is still up in the air as to whether or not it’s suicide, most people are already starting to form their own suspicions. This is where disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne enters the picture.
Tasked with cracking the case, perhaps as a bit of a joke by the department, Daniel decides he needs a ghost writer who will document not only this case, but his life in general. Out of all the candidates, he picks Anthony Horowitz, the writer of The Word is Murder. Without getting metaphysical about it, Horowitz accepts the job, and soon finds himself drawn into a case which only gets stranger and more chaotic by the minute. What’s worse, he has no control over any of it, and dragged along by Hawthorne’s genius and brusque mannerisms, Anthony begins to peel the veneer of mystery behind the subject at the centre of his chronicles.
Clash of Reality and Fiction in The Word is Murder
I did say above Horowitz doesn’t get too metaphysical about the whole thing, but in the end I think it would have been a waste of potential to completely do away with any and all meta elements. While at first I wasn’t too sure about seeing the writer write himself into his own fictional story, the idea kept growing on me the further I got into it, largely because Horowitz deals quite well with the task of integrating himself into the fictional realm in an organic manner.
Café Mortel, an opportunity to discuss one’s mortality over tea and cake.― Anthony Horowitz, The Word Is Murder
He doesn’t just plop himself down in the middle of it, but rather establishes himself and even a certain past he already had with Hawthorne. This goes a real long way in helping us forget who Horowitz is in reality and to simply accept him as the Watson of this duo.
Additionally, I found the author did a good job at mixing in additional elements of the real world in his story, eventually creating a kind of mash where it’s hard to tell where reality ends and fiction begins. Horowitz never outright winks at you from the page, but there are some scenes, namely his meeting with Spielberg and Peter Jackson, where it’s hard not to appreciate his jabs at real life while seamlessly making them a part of The Word is Murder.
In my opinion, the biggest and most interesting of such clashes comes between Anthony and his own character, Hawthorne. At the beginning, they aren’t exactly fond of each other, seeming like total opposites, as if Anthony was trying to create his alter-ego.
While I can’t pretend to know the author or what he is like, there’s a feeling of him trying to explore his own inner world by laying it all out on paper, and ultimately for the reader, this ends up making for quite a few interesting interactions between the two, some amusing, others thought-provoking. In the end, I think few can mix reality and fiction in as appealing a manner as Horowitz did here.
The Ciphers of our Amusement
As fun as it might be to overlap truth and imagination, this element alone wouldn’t exactly make for a good novel, especially not a good murder mystery. Rest assured, Horowitz spent as much effort in crafting the mystery as he did in making his character dislike every one of Hawthorne’s bad habits.
When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.― Anthony Horowitz, The Word Is Murder
While the introduction is a bit slow and sets a relatively mundane stage, it doesn’t take long for things to start going off the rails as more and more characters are introduced, each with their own truths and agendas waiting to be explored. There are more than enough twists to keep you guessing, and the further we get into the story the more it feels like the tempo picks up, but never as to become overwhelming.
The twists, despite being numerous, are still spaced out well enough to give you some time to reflect and absorb what you’ve been reading. It might not be the most original or groundbreaking mystery I’ve ever read, but I would certainly classify highly among its kind. There is an additional mystery which, if I understand correctly, will be eventually developed upon over the course of the series: the darkness within Hawthorne himself.
From the glimpses we get into his character, it becomes clear to both Horowitz and us Hawthorne is hiding something dark and profound within himself, and he’s not the kind of person who will easily relent any information about his own being. While at the start he appears like a cut-and-dry type of character, it feels like we end the novel with more questions than answers about him, having learned just enough to crave for more.
|432||Harper Perennial||May 7 2019||978-0062676801|
The Final Verdict
The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz is an excellent detective novel which combines fiction and reality in a fun and engaging manner, offering a mystery plot filled with enjoyable twists and a cast of characters we only want to learn more about. If you like detective mysteries of a more traditional kind and the author’s idea of writing himself in as a ghost writer sounds intriguing, then I truly believe you’ll find this to be a memorable novel.
Anthony Horowitz is an English author from Stanmore, Middlesex, whose family had the distinction of being of having a history worthy of a novel in and of itself, largely revolving around his father’s mysterious occupation and fortune.
At the age of twenty he began publishing professionally, and has penned numerous bestsellers including The House of Silk, Stormbreaker, Moriarty and Magpie Murders.