Anthony Horowitz may not be that well known to people for his books, even though this is his fifth, but his unseen work as the writer of TV detective series such as Foyle’s War and Midsummer Murders will certainly be more familiar. Two of his books have been Sherlock Holmes stories and one a follow up James Bond adventure, using some of Ian Fleming’s original material. He has also written a raft of young adult fiction, being the creator of the teenage spy Alex Rider.
The Word is Murder concerns the investigation into the death of Diana Cowper. Having visited an undertaker to arrange all the details of her own funeral, she is found murdered a few hours later. After a single chapter that introduces the dead woman, the book takes on a wholly unexpected turn. The detective leading the investigation, known only as Hawthorne, asks a writer to document the case, to follow his investigation and write a book. That writer is Horowitz himself, who becomes a character in his own novel. This actually works well, with various asides from the case which talk about the difference between the fictional cases in Foyle’s War and the “actual” case when following Hawthorne around. Occasionally this may go a little far, such as when Horowitz is meeting Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg to talk about scripting a second Tintin movie and Hawthorne interrupts their meeting and drags him away. In the main it works well, lending a different sense of realism.
That first chapter of background is presented to Hawthorne at one point and he dislikes it because it is not written as a set of known facts. He presents his own version, which reads like a dead-pan police statement. The banter between detective and author is fun and lighthearted. Hawthorne is clearly a brilliant deductive investigator, from the same mould as Sherlock Holmes, but he is also grumpy and difficult and has a dark past, having been dismissed from the Metropolitan Police. Horowitz does a bit of his own investigating to find out more.
The Word is Murder is an excellent detective story, with a very satisfying set of twists and turns which keep you guessing as to the true identity of the killer. In true detective fiction style there are plenty of clues scattered through the narrative, if only we are sharp enough to pick them up. For me the best test of a successful murder mystery is that our killer has a good motive for actually committing the crime. What improves the story is when, like here, multiple people have motives, because then nothing is clear cut. Probably because Horowitz has worked so much in television, this would make an excellent film; vivid, action packed and with plenty of humour and intrigue.