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 naïve 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.Which seems a very fair summing-up.
I liked the plot outline though ...
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.