On a glorious sunny morning, Diana Cowper, a wealthy, sixty-something-year-old woman, walks into the office of Robert Cornwallis, a London-based mortician, to make arrangements for her own funeral.
Six hours later, Diana is murdered.
Clearly, she’d made post-death arrangements. . . so, is it possible Cowper also planned her own murder?
That’s the setup for Anthony Horowitz’s (Magpie Murders, 2017, etc.) latest novel, but it’s how the bestselling author executes his story that makes The Word is Murder stand out in a crowded field.
To tell the story of the investigation that follows Diana’s murder, Horowitz drops himself playfully into the plot, his voice serving as the narrator throughout. The Anthony (don’t call him Tony) that we meet here is, of course, a fictional version of the real-life author. That said, there’s plenty of facts in this fictional world. For example, in the novel, Anthony is an author who is supposed to be working on a project called The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes mystery that really was written and subsequently published by Horowitz in 2011.
Genius investigator Daniel Hawthorne is brought in to work Diana’s murder case, and Anthony makes arrangements to shadow him, helping if he can, in order to write a crime novel about the case itself. Hawthorne, an ex-detective inspector with a penchant for solving murders, previously served as a consultant for one of Anthony’s earlier novels. The two have an established rapport, and it doesn’t take long to realize that Anthony, the story-writing sidekick, is playing Watson to Hawthorne’s Sherlock Holmes. . . much to the dismay of Anthony’s agent, who believes he’s busy working on a screenplay for a Steven Spielberg.
Once the roles are established, the plot really takes off as the two characters begin searching for answers to the strange case before them. Things take a delicious turn when Hawthorne discovers that Diana Cowper’s final recorded message implicates a man named Jeremy Godwin, whom she accidentally struck with her vehicle more than a decade prior — leaving Godwin severely brain damaged, and therefore making it impossible for him to be the killer. . .
Look, this book is tons of fun. The quirky idea of putting himself in the story could have been a big mistake, but Horowitz manages to get out of the way and let the other characters drive the story when needed. Hawthorne is a perplexing character with a past he’d rather not discuss, and he’s not even entirely likable. Still, readers will get a kick out of seeing the astute detective in action, which is every bit as fun as following around Mr. Holmes. In one of the best lines in the book, Hawthorne responds to Anthony about what people really want out of a murder mystery, serving up a tongue-in-cheek one-liner that then becomes the book’s working title, “the word is murder.”
Anthony Horowitz might be the only writer on the planet capable of pulling this off, and man, does he deliver. . . The Word is Murder is a brilliant, fun, well-written crime novel with plenty of suspense and at least one twist readers will never see coming. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, especially, will devour this book.
(Note: Next up for Horowitz is Forever and a Day, a new James Bond prequel novel that’s set to come out this November.)
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Pages: 400 (Hardcover)
Release Date: June 5, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 9.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck (“The Godfather of the thriller genre” — Ben Coes) has “quickly established himself as the authority on mysteries and thrillers” (Author A.J. Tata). He currently lives in Southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children.