We’ve all heard the saying about how hard it is to separate fact from fiction. However, this is not a problem you expect to encounter when reading a mystery story. Yet that is the case with the latest book from Anthony Horowitz, The Word is Murder published by Haper Collins.
If you’ve watched any British television in the last 15 or so years you’re bound to have seen Horowitz’s name show up in the opening credits under writer. He was the original writer for Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, the stand alone mini series Above Suspicion and countless other shows. I mention the last show in particular because of the nature of this book and how the story unfolds.
For in The Word is Murder Horowitz has written a story featuring himself as a lead character working with the retired police detective who worked as the police consultant on Above Suspicion trying to solve a murder. He also tells us that he based the cop in the TV show on this man, Daniel Hawthorne.
Now if you’ve seen the show you’ll know the character he’s referring to was a vile piece of work; abusive to his wife and kids and racist to boot. While he does offer the disclaimer that former Inspector Hawthorne isn’t a racist or an abuser, he still isn’t someone you’re going to want to spend a lot of time with.
Yet somehow or other Horowitz finds himself drawn into working alongside Hawthorne investigating a murder. Actually, Hawthorne, who is occasionally hired on by Scotland Yard as a consultant, has convinced him to write a book based on his current investigation. So Horowitz finds himself being dragged around the city watching the detective try to find out who murdered Diana Cowper.
The late Mrs. Cowper walked into a funeral parlour to make arrangements for her own burial, left the establishment, went home, and was murdered shortly thereafter. There was no record of her going anywhere else before going home and, on the surface, absolutely no reason why anyone should have wanted to murder her.
When her actor son comes home from California for the funeral and is subsequently murdered as well, Hawthorne and Horowitz begin to look deeper into both victims lives and start coming up with all sorts of dirty secrets. Mrs. Cowper had badly injured a child in a hit and run accident but had been let off from a custodial sentence due to mitigating circumstances.
However, while both the child’s parents have motivation for killing the mother, neither would have any interest in killing the son. While the son is your typical spoiled movie star type, it doesn’t seem like he’s alienated or pissed off anyone enough for them to want to kill both him and his mother.
While the mystery the two men are attempting to solve is fascinating, and watching them working together is even more fun. Horowitz has done a great job of creating the character of Hawthorne, and bringing himself to life on the pages of his own book. Of course you could also let this mess with your brain if you wanted. For, whether you want to or not, you find yourself periodically asking if what you’re reading is fact or fiction.
You know the author is a real person, and he talks to real people (In one memorable conversation he’s in a meeting with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson about writing the script for their film adaptation of Tintin). He also tells us that Hawthorne is a real person and we have no choice but to believe him. In some ways the book falls between the Sherlock Holmes axiom of “once you’ve eliminated the improbable you’re left with the impossible” and the Lewis Carrol quote “Sometimes I believe six impossible things before breakfast”.
So, yes, while reading The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz requires a certain amount of suspending you’re disbelief and believing a couple of impossible things before breakfast, it is an enjoyable and wonderful mystery. While the quirks of the story could have interfered with the actual mystery and investigation, Horowitz manages to balance the two to create something unique and fun. However, I still wonder how much of it is real and how much is fiction.