The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz


published 2017


Word is Murder Word is Murder 2



Just after 11 o.clock on a bright spring morning, the sort of day when the sunshine is almost white and promises a warmth that it doesn’t quite deliver, Diana Cowper crossed the Fulham Rd and went into a funeral parlour.

She was a short, very business-like woman: there was a sense of determination in her eyes, her sharply cut hair, the very way she walked. If you saw her coming, your first instinct would be to step aside and let her pass. And yet there was nothing unkind about her. She was in her sixties with a pleasant round face. She was expensively dressed, her pale raincoat hanging open to reveal a pink jersey and grey skirt. She wore a heavy bead and stone necklace which might or might not have been expensive and a number of diamond rings that most certainly were. There were plenty of women like her in the streets of Fulham and south Kensington. She might have been on her way to lunch or to an art gallery.


commentary: These are the opening lines of the book, and a great setup is being put in place (this is not a spoiler). Diana Cowper sets out her plans for her own funeral – and the same day she is murdered. What can possibly be going on here? The explanation for this strange turn of events is very satisfying when it finally comes, though some of the plotlines in between really don’t hack it.

Anthony Horowitz is a very successful and prolific author: his children’s books (particularly the Alex Ryder series) and the TV programme Foyle’s War might be the most famous of his works, but the list is daunting and impressive, and includes followon books for both Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, quite the portfolio. I did NOT enjoy AH’s previous murder story, Magpie Murders, and The Word is Murder was a big improvement, even though I still had some criticisms…

It is the start of yet another series: the key character will be Hawthorne, an aging ex-policeman doing private work, miserable and with a dreary private life. Enough to make the reader tired already. Such a traditional character needs a sidekick, a Watson, and in this book he gets one: Anthony Horowitz. The book is narrated by ‘Tony’ who is about 90% (so far as we can tell) the author, with all of his past, his writing achievements, and his private life.

You would think there had to be a really good reason for this: it would be vital, or Horowitz was going to do something very clever and post-modern with the idea, but I can’t say that that seemed to be the case. There was some entertainment value – the meeting with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson was hilarious – but in the end it  detracted from the plot. When I thought about the book, I kept remembering my annoyance with the narrator. But the plot actually was pretty good, with intriguing moments in it – the very na├»ve author was an unnecessary distraction. Various plot points seemed obvious to an experienced reader, and the sleuths rather slow catching on. I also didn’t understand why someone seriously injured in a car accident (with no doubt as to who was responsible) didn’t seem to have received any kind of compensation…

I had such mixed feelings about this book that I asked a friend who has also read it – long-time blog supporter Jackie Owen – what she thought of it and she said:
I was just a bit disappointed with it. It took me a couple of chapters to place who Tony was ...a bit slow on the uptake there. I thought it was fun but like you said ...hard to pinpoint what I loved or hated about it. Mind you ...just saw that it was the start of a detective series so I may warm more to it.
I liked the plot outline though ...
Which seems a very fair summing-up.

There were some entertaining moments here – the funeral scene was spectacularly enjoyable, and anyone who reads it will be unable to hear a certain children’s song again without remembering it. The picture of a certain kind of London life, and the progression of the investigation, were both good.

I agree with my friend – we’ll have to wait and see how the series develops.

Anthony Horowitz has been on the blog before, because of his support for an Oxfam Crime anthology.














Comments

  1. Hmm....not so sure about this one, myself, Moira. It often doesn't go very well when an author puts him/herself a novel like that, and I'm not so sure I think it would work here. The opening lines you shared are intriguing, and I could see myself reading past them. But the rest? Not sure... I am sure you did a fine review, though, for which thanks.

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    1. Thanks Margot - this is a funny one, because the plot and working out were good, but I couldn't warm to the weird structure.

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  2. The thing about Horowitz is that he is (and this will sound dismissive but really isn't intended that way) a hack. I don't mean that he is untalented, but rather he is the sort of writer who can turn his hand to any character and any series. You've only got to look at the TV shows that he's contributed to and the literary characters that he has written continuations for. The reason that he is so good is that he can capture the particular style and form that is needed. One of the reason that the 007 book TRIGGER MORTIS is so satisfying is that he isn't trying to redefine Bond, but rather to tell a rip-snorting story about the superspy.

    The gimmick in the new book is clever, but it's not really anything more than a gimmick because he isn't really interested in using the idea to do or say anything. I've got the biography of Robert Holmes, who was one of the most successful writer of TV shows between the mid-'60s and mid-'80s. He wrote superb additions to loads of popular shows of that era because he could work out what the format of the show was and then add something extra. The only time that he really struggled was when he was offered a shot at the prestigious PLAY FOR TODAY slot. The producers wanted something deep and 'meaningful' whereas he was primarily interested in story-telling. This book is clever and well-plotted, but it's such an interesting idea that you sort of expect him to do more with it than he does.

    ggary

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    1. Very interesting. I watched an old Foyle's War out of interest, and felt - as you say - that it was competent, nicely done, but didn't rise above that. But it was very enjoyable, an entertaining 2 hours, although I was left with questions about the plot and structure...
      So now I just looked up Robert Holmes - how amazing, what a career, what an impressive body of work... right through to Bergerac days.

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  3. Sounds like one I'll pass on. I don't especially dislike overly clever writers when they seem a bit too much on the self-satisfied side -- which it sounds like is the case here -- I just get irritated. I don't read to get irritated (unless it's to kick me into a new level of awareness).

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    1. I'm certainly not pushing it- there didn't seem any reason for the over-complex conceit of having the author at the centre of the story.

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  4. Sounds interesting. I have not read anything by Horowitz and am not in a rush to. Althogh ggary's comments got me possibly interested in TRIGGER MORTIS someday.

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    1. Yes - I was left wanting to read that book too!
      He has produced an astonishing number of books -you are bound to get one of them at the booksale sooner or later!

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    2. That is what I think too. He is an author I will try if one of his book shows up at the booksale. Glen was interested in Magpie Murders, and I had seen some good reviews, but now with your comment on that, I have recently seen two negative reactions.

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    3. ... but some people really liked it to be fair! I had a comment on social media in reply saying they would read this new one if it was as good as Magpie Murders! It may be just me...

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    4. I know, and I had been encouraging him to get it... sometime. He worries as much about his pile of TBR books as I do, and he has maybe 1/6 as many unread books as I do. And he is now mostly in non-fiction mode for a while.

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    5. I do try to be efficient about reducing the TBR piles, and I do look for books that have been hanging round a long time, and work through them, skimming if necessary. But then that would have to be matched by NOT buying any new ones, and I am no good at that...

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  5. My son read him as a teenager - Alex Rider series maybe? I've seen his "adult" books, but not really interested to be truthful. I've more than enough on my plate.

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    1. Yes, my son too! And all his friends. My son is called Alex, and some very young boys wondered if he was called after Alex Ryder - or even was Alex Ryder! I think in all honesty you can safely avoid these books.

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  6. I didn't realize he wrote Foyle's War. I love the TV show, and that is somewhat because I adore Michael Kitchen and Honeysuckle Weeks. Her name alone is terrific.

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    1. Isn't Honeysuckle Weeks the best name ever? And both of them are excellent actors. It wasn't my favourite TV programme, but I have watched a few epis in my time...

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  7. Glen and I loved Foyle's War and plan to rewatch all the episodes. I do have a thing for Michael Kitchen but there are many other things I love about the series.

    Horowitz's connection with Foyle's War and Midsomer Murders was one of the reasons I wanted to try some of his books but nothing has yet called out to me.

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    1. Now, I do like Michael Kitchen, a lot. Foyle's War is mentioned in the book, and Horowitz says it is a policy decision that Foyle doesn't ask questions much... is that noticeable?

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    2. I asked Glen and neither he nor I remember that specifically. (I will pay more attention when we rewatch a few.) He is quiet and thoughtful so it may be true and not so noticeable.

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    3. I asked family members who love the series what they thought, and their initial reply was 'nonsense'. So we watched one together - he DOES ask questions, but probably not nearly so many as a normal police procedural. I think. Will be interested to hear your conclusion when you next watch one!

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  8. I do love Foyle's War, too. I think I also have a thing for Michael Kitchen.

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    1. A really nice man, I think. Not sure about the character of Foyle, myself...

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