The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

A quirk too far…

🙂 🙂 🙂

One spring morning, Diana Cowper, a healthy woman in her sixties, calls into a local undertaker’s and arranges her own funeral. Nothing too uncommon about this, especially since she is a widow and her only son has moved to the States to pursue his successful acting career. But it takes on a very different aspect when, later that same day, she is strangled to death in her own home. Disgraced ex-policeman Daniel Hawthorne is called in by his old boss to investigate the crime on a consulting basis. Hawthorne thinks it would be a great idea if someone were to write a book showing him in action – and he knows just the man for the job…

Horowitz is one of the cleverest plotters out there at the moment and I’ve loved his last several books. In this one, however, I feel he allows that cleverness to lead him down a route that, for me at least, becomes too quirky to be totally enjoyable. It transpires that the man Hawthorne has in mind to write his book is none other than Horowitz himself. So the fictional mystery quickly gets blended into a lot of, I assume, largely factual stuff about Horowitz’s actual writing career. My problem with this is that either his characterisation of himself is heavily fictionalised, in which case, what’s the point? Or it’s mostly true, in which case, sadly, I found him a rather unlikeable chap with an overhealthy sense of his own worth and importance, who simply loves to name-drop. I spent most of the book trying to convince myself he was attempting to be humorous by deliberately showing himself off as a cultural snob and an aspiring lovey, but if so, it wasn’t made clear enough. I tired quickly of the long digressions where he breaks away from the story to discuss the making of Foyle’s War, the amazing success of his books, or his meetings with Steven Spielberg and David Jackson to discuss film scripts, even though he occasionally attempts to include a bit of self-deprecatory humour.

I’ve said before that personally I prefer not to know much about authors since knowing about their personalities can get in the way of my appreciation of their books. I therefore avoid literary biographies and autobiographies of all but the long dead, and rarely read author interviews or articles about them for the same reason. So I’m aware that my adverse reaction to this book arises out of that dislike and therefore won’t be the same for readers who do like to know about authors’ lives – in fact, I’m almost certain they’ll find this aspect adds a lot of fun.

Anthony Horowitz

Otherwise, the plotting is excellent, as is the quality of the writing. The clues are all given, so in that sense it’s fairplay, though I think it would take a healthy dose of luck for anyone to get close to the solution – I certainly didn’t. The story goes to some dark places but there’s a lot of humour so that the overall tone is of a light entertainment. Hawthorne didn’t ring true to me at all, nor did the idea that a policeman who had been sacked would be called in on a murder investigation, but I didn’t feel Horowitz was really going for realism. To be truthful, I’m not altogether sure what he was going for. He’s clearly doing a kind of update of the Holmes/Watson relationship – he gives the impression that he was writing this at the same time as his excellent books set in the Holmesian world, The House of Silk and Moriarty. But, unlike Holmes and Watson, I found neither of these characters particularly admirable or likeable. And an awful lot of the “detection” element simply consists of characters giving great long uninterrupted speeches explaining all the various events in their pasts that have some connection with the present-day crime.

Overall, I found it a reasonably enjoyable read but, probably at least in part because of my high expectations, something of a disappointment. I’m sure most Horowitz fans will enjoy it and have already seen several people praise it highly, but I certainly wouldn’t recommend it as one for newcomers to his work. And I’m hoping I can get Horowitz the character out of my head before Horowitz the author publishes his next book…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Cornerstone.

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60 thoughts on “The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

  1. AARRGGHH! Well, this is annoying. Of course the plotting and writing are fabulous – it’s Horowitz – but this isn’t the place I want to read about his career, even if we give him the benefit of the doubt and he is being ironic about himself. I’m going to read this, of course, but now with some trepidation, as you know what a huge fan I am. What is it they say about meeting your heroes?
    (On the upside, my last book is a whole one and a half stars better than his so allowing myself some smugness this morning!)

    • (Hahaha – there’s no doubt I enjoyed yours more than his! Have an extra glass of wine tonight as a reward!)

      I really hated writing this review, and I do hope you enjoy the book more than I did – plenty of people are loving it. I just got a bit annoyed with his name-dropping though I’m nearly sure it was supposed to be funny. Ah well! Hopefully he’ll wow me again with his next one…

      • (If there was ever a reason to deserve wine – this is it!!)
        I imagine it was a painful experience, as a fellow Horowitz fan. I will go into it with the assumption that it is all tongue-in-cheek, see if that helps. I can’t imagine anything worse than reading about the writer writing about his actual life in a fictional novel. If it was really outrageous, over-blown stuff, or obvious parody, that’s different. I certainly won’t be taking it on my holibobs, just in case it annoys me! Never mind, perhaps he will write some Atticus Pund now…

        • ( 😀 )

          Yeah, maybe it was all tongue-in-cheek – the people who enjoyed it certainly seem to be seeing it that way. It failed to hit my funny bone mostly, sadly, unlike Salman Rushdie, who had me laughing out loud last night (while secretly worrying he wasn’t meaning to be funny…) It’s all so difficult – authors should really put a note in the blurb: This book is/is not supposed to be funny… 😉

          • I quite fancy the new Rushdie one, actually, so I look forward to your review! Even if the humour is unintentional (I suspect it might be!)
            I’ll let you know what I think of the Horowitz, of course. If I feel that strongly, I’ll let him know on Twitter! If I can’t get him to co-write with me, I might be able to get him to block me instead 🤣

    • I’m glad it wasn’t the first one of his I’d read – it might have put me off him. I loved both his books set in the Holmes world, and last year his Magpie Murders won my Crime Book of the Year award – that would be a great one to start with, I think.

    • Yeah, I think it’s very much going to be a matter of personal taste with this one, but I really prefer my fiction to be completely fictional – mainly so I can dislike characters without feeling guilty…

  2. Hmm…..I do know what you mean, FictionFan, in your criticism. I think that would bother me, too. Hmm….I wanted to read this very much, but perhaps I’ll head over to that fence over there and sit on it for a bit while I decide. I do like clever plotting. On the other hand… Yes, it’s the fence for me for a bit.

    • I think it’s going to be a very subjective thing with this book – all the plotting and writing is just as good as usual, and some people will love the idea of him including himself, but others will probably feel like me that it was just too quirky a concept. If you come off the fence at any point, I hope you enjoy it more than I did. 🙂

  3. I’ve loved Horowitz ever since I was reading his wonderful The Falcon’s Maltezer to my year six classes but I have to say that when I picked this up from the library the other day and had a quick flick through it I did wonder if he might not have taken a step too far. I will read it but with my expectations perhaps rather lower than they might otherwise have been.

    • I’d never read any of his children’s books, so came to him first with his books set in the Holmesian world, which I loved. And I adored Magpie Murders last year. But sadly the quirkiness of this concept just didn’t work for me. However I know my opinion is very subjective – it’s just as well plotted and written as his other stuff, so I hope you’re pleasantly surprised when you read it.

      Thanks for popping in and commenting! 😀

  4. I’m in the minority here as I enjoyed this book and it’s precisely the things that irritated you that I enjoyed – although it did take me a little while to get used to the idea of Horowitz as a character. I like to think that he was attempting to be humorous. 🙂

    • I suspect you’ll be in the majority again once the other folks have read it for themselves – I know my opinion was very subjective this time, just because this particular quirk didn’t work for me. But it’s just as well written and well plotted as his usual stuff, so I’ll be happy if it’s me that’s in the minority in the end… 🙂

  5. HaHa, another great review, FF! I haven’t read this one (and I probably won’t). I, too, don’t enjoy lengthy character explanations, and, while the initial plot sounds interesting, no way would I buy a disgraced ex-cop being called in to investigate. Nor would I enjoy the blending of author memoir with novel!

  6. I enjoyed this a lot more than you did, but I understand why you had problems with it. I did find the name-dropping and biographical information a bit distracting, but overall I loved the whole concept, which was unlike anything else I’ve ever read. I don’t think we were supposed to like Hawthorne (and possibly not Horowitz either, though I’m not sure about that) but it was actually the fact that he was so unlikeable that made him interesting to me. In my review, I mentioned that I was hoping for more Hawthorne/Horowitz mysteries, but I expect you will be hoping the opposite! 🙂

    • I was sorry to give this one a kinda negative review, partly because I usually love Horowitz so much, and partly because I felt my reaction was very subjective – even more so than usual. I could have put up with not liking Hawthorne, and actually I wouldn’t have minded disliking the Horowitz character if he’d been called anything but Horowitz! I was wishing he’d just fictionalised that character by giving him another name and calling Foyle’s War something else, and then we could have had the secret thrill of recognising it was based on him without having to worry about whether it was accurate or not. Haha – yes, I’m hoping he’ll move on to something else. I still haven’t given up hope he’ll write the Atticus Pund books he mentions in Magpie Murders… 😀

  7. I don’t know this person, and I’ve never read any of his books, but I can’t help but chuckle a little bit at the thought that you don’t like him (or may not like him, depending on what exactly he WAS going for with this book). Nah, this one’s not for me…

    • Haha – that’s kinda how I felt when I was reading it! I wanted to like him because I love his books, and kept trying to persuade myself he couldn’t really be like this annoying person who has his name in the book! Discombobulating… 😉

  8. I enjoy your forthrightness…but I think I came to the opposite conclusion. For me, the actual mystery was…well, OK…but what was appealing was the knowledge that Horowitz was almost certainly sending himself up. It was mightily self-indulgent, mind. I don’t give stars over on Cafe thinking, but would have given it three out of five – but one would have been for the Foyle’s War anecdotes and another for the meta nature of the novel.

    • Ha – yes, I can see the appeal of that, and just wished I could be wholly convinced this wasn’t the “real” Horowitz. I think self-indulgent describes it perfectly – he’s always quirky and that’s what I love about him, but this quirk just took it too far for me. I’m glad other people seem to be enjoying it though – he’s still one of my favourite authors, and I’ll have got over this one by the time he brings out his next… 😀

    • I loved Moriarty and didn’t see the twist coming at all! Magpie Murders was brilliant too. I didn’t like this one so much but I do think my reaction was very subjective, so please don’t let me put you off… 🙂

  9. Hmm, metafiction gone wild. I like it more when the author pops in for no good reason and jumps right back out, usually to humerus effect. Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins are two good examples. Paul Auster also enters his own books, but spends a lot of time there.

    • I can’t think of anywhere I’ve really come across it before, but I probably wouldn’t have minded if he’d just had a small part rather than being one of the main characters. Another commenter called it self-indulgent, and I think that’s a very good word for how I felt about it…

  10. Hmmm I think our tastes differ quite a bit FF, when it comes to authors bringing themselves into their work, I do like to do know more about them as people, I find it informs their writing in a unique way for me. Alas, I also understand where you’re coming from so i can see why this would be disappointed. I’ve never read Horowitz before, but I’m thinking I should perhaps give another one of his books a try?

    • I know a lot of people like to know about authors – I was even having this debate way back in my university days with my then tutor. For me, the work has to stand or fall on its own merits, and I find if I dislike an author for any reason (eg discovering that in real life they were horribly racist etc) that puts me off their books. Not that Horowitz came over as horrible in this book, just a bit too full of himself…

      Try Magpie Murders – it’s a really clever take on Golden Age crime. 😀

  11. Those deeply held likes and dislikes can seriously interfere with reading enjoyment can’t they? I have to say I don’t share your reservations regarding a writer’s character but I have plenty of my own quirks which ruin other perfectly good books. I do however have reservations about authors trying to be too clever and I take note about this one probably not being the first to read by this author (I hope my request on NG stays inactive!!)

    • They can! My first reaction was to think it was a fun idea but then as the character began to annoy me, it began to worry me that it would put me off not just this book, but all his books in the future. I hope it hasn’t! Ha! I often find myself hoping NG says no… 😉

  12. It seems like the height of vanity to put yourself as a character in your own book to me, but Alfred Hitchcock always managed it beautifully in his movies. Sounds as if he didn’t quite pull this off…

    • Yes, it did feel vain – ah, if only he’d done a Hitchcock and just appeared for a moment in the background! I’d have loved it then! But putting himself in as one of the main characters gave me too much time to find him annoying… 😦

  13. I recently ran into a similar thing, where an author wrote herself – somewhat disguised, maybe?? – into some books, and it just made the whole thing quite confusing, especially since the author made her character (different name, but someone who wrote all of the real author’s books) into this sort of perfect person, universally loved and admired. The story would have been bad enough just wading through all the praise of this perfect, wonderful, admirable, generous, kind, intelligent, thoughtful, insightful person, but when this paragon is also supposed to be the author herself, it felt incredibly awkward!

    On the other hand, I’ve also seen it done with grace and humor, like Agatha Christie’s creation of Adrianne Oliver, or Elizabeth Peters turning herself into the curator of her fictional archaeologists, the Emersons. It’s definitely a ploy that only works if the author doesn’t take him/herself too seriously!

    • It’s odd – if he’d just changed the character’s name and called Foyle’s War something else, it would have felt quite different – as if the reader was kinda in on a secret. And there would have been more leeway to think it was fictionalised. I love Ariadne Oliver, but I’d probably not have loved her if Agatha Christie had called her Agatha Christie! A tiny walk on role might have worked, like Hitchcock does in his films, but not a starring role. Sadly, it appears he’s going to do a series of these – don’t think I’ll be reading them…

  14. Ah, shame you didn’t fully enjoy it.

    I think he tried to take it with a bit of humour, definitely lots of sarcasm, especially considering the scene with Jackson, Spielberg and Hawthorne, definitely a mockery of the world he is in I thought! I found it very funny 🙂

    • Yes, it does seem to have divided people more than his books usually do. I did try to take it all as humorous, but it just didn’t quite work for me. A pity, because I’ve loved his other adult books! Hopefully, I’ll do better with his next one – though I think I heard he’s going to do a series of the Hawthorne/Horowitz books. Glad you enjoyed it more than me! 🙂

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