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The Word Is Murder


The Word Is Murder

There was a literary movement in the 1960s and ’70s referred to as New Fiction, or New Journalism. Ironically, one of the writers at its forefront was the recently deceased Tom Wolfe. Joining him were other world-famous authors like Truman Capote, Gay Talese and Hunter S. Thompson. This type of writing took nonfiction or journalism and presented it in the style of a novel. Even if you are unfamiliar with this term, when reading a classic like Wolfe's THE RIGHT STUFF or Capote's IN COLD BLOOD, you realize that the pages are turning like a high-octane thriller, yet the entire story and all the characters within are from real life.

I cannot think of other writing styles in my lifetime as effective as New Journalism.  Recently, Gillian Flynn of GONE GIRL fame brought about a series of other novels written entirely from the voices of different, often opposing, narrators. Alas, not many have been able to imitate Flynn's success. Now along comes Anthony Horowitz. Anyone aware of Horowitz recognizes that he is a master at plotting and manipulating readers or television viewers with his deeply layered, intelligent mysteries. He has written about Holmes and Moriarty, and was recently supported by the estate of Ian Fleming to continue the James Bond series that started with his terrific TRIGGER MORTIS. He ranks Dame Agatha Christie among his major influences and has found success on the small screen as creator of the outstanding British TV series “Midsomer Murders” and “Foyle's War.”

The release of THE WORD IS MURDER immediately called to mind for me Wolfe and New Journalism in that Horowitz has created a true puzzler of a novel that reads like a fictional retelling of nonfiction events that were completely fictionalized. I understand how confusing this may sound, but trust me: Once you begin reading this book, you will be completely absorbed and only afterwards will be able to look back and truly appreciate the feat that Horowitz has created for your reading pleasure.

"THE WORD IS MURDER is a brilliantly created work of art and New Fiction, and Horowitz deserves any expected accolades and awards that will arise from it. I closed the book actually wishing Hawthorne was a real person, or at the very least a fictional character to be used in recurring stories."

An elderly woman named Diana Cowper enters a local undertaker's office to plan her own funeral. Shortly afterwards, she walks home, where she is met by an intruder who may have been known to her and proceeds to strangle her to death. Normally this would not have been considered major news except for two facts: Cowper was the mother of a world-famous and currently popular actor, Damian Cowper, and she was behind the wheel of a car involved in a hit-and-run accident that claimed the life of an eight-year-old boy and permanently disabled his twin brother.

That brutal incident took place in a small British seaside town and forever changed the lives of the Godwin family. It was this event, as well as the celebrity of Damian Cowper, that intrigued a recently dismissed police detective, Daniel Hawthorne, enough to show interest in this case. Hawthorne was asked by a former colleague to conduct his own investigation, shadowing the actual one being done by the current PD. He was considered a brilliant detective in spite of the fact that he was kicked off the force for throwing a pedophile down a flight of stairs. Additionally, Hawthorne was known to be a generally bigoted personality who behaved in a brusque manner with seemingly no care for the feelings or opinions of anyone within his earshot.

One day, Hawthorne phones a well-known writer and asks him to join him on this investigation and to write a book about him. The author's name is Anthony Horowitz. Even though no one else refers to him in that manner, Hawthorne immediately begins calling Horowitz “Tony” and seems to know way too much about the author and his life. Horowitz remembers the Diana Cowper case involving the Godwin children quite well and is interested in Hawthorne's. He also knows that, in spite of his success, a full-time writer cannot afford to turn down any work for fear of what you might be missing out on.

As Horowitz begins tagging along with Hawthorne, he is instantly immersed in his gruff style. The trouble Horowitz is finding is how impossible it seems to write a book about someone you don’t like very much. However, as the two of them begin to meet with all the players involved in the hit-and-run accident right through Cowper's recent murder, Horowitz finds things too juicy to resist. When they finally meet with Judith Godwin, the mother of the young boys involved in the hit-and-run, they find a person who still bore much understandable hatred toward the Cowpers. The accident not only cost her the life of her young Timmy but also eventually broke up her marriage to her husband, Alan, and left her with her surviving son Jeremy --- a young man who needs constant care due to the permanent damage inflicted on him. The family nanny, Mary O'Brien, has stayed on all these years to assist with the care of Jeremy. Mary was allegedly the only person present when the boys ran across the road to an ice cream shop, only to be struck by Cowper’s vehicle.

Despite his abrasive style, Hawthorne has a way of picking holes in almost any story.  Interviews with people that Horowitz thinks go nowhere surprisingly find Hawthorne brimming with delight at the truth he feels he uncovers from the answers they receive from all the subjects they meet with. Along the way, Horowitz sprinkles in events with real-life figures such as movie directors Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg, who are partnering with Horowitz on a sequel to the Tintin animated film. This is done in such an easy manner and rings so true that it will definitely confound and amuse readers.

It wouldn't be an Anthony Horowitz novel without a major twist, and this is accomplished at Cowper’s funeral. I’ll let you discover it for yourself. All I can say is that THE WORD IS MURDER is a brilliantly created work of art and New Fiction, and Horowitz deserves any expected accolades and awards that will arise from it. I closed the book actually wishing Hawthorne was a real person, or at the very least a fictional character to be used in recurring stories. Either way, Horowitz has left us with a book that demands to be read and discussed by mystery readers and/or reading groups worldwide who appreciate intelligent and expertly plotted murder mysteries.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on June 8, 2018

The Word Is Murder
by Anthony Horowitz

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0062676806
  • ISBN-13: 9780062676801