Anthony Horowitz knows his way around the bloody murder mystery genre. He is responsible for creating and writing some of the UK’s most beloved and successful television series, producing the first seven episodes (and the title) of Midsomer Murders and is also the writer and creator of award-winning series Foyle’s War, both of which aired on PBS.
Horowitz has been commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate and Orion Books to write two new Sherlock Holmes novels and by the Ian Fleming Estate to write the James Bond novel Trigger Mortis, which was published in September 2015. His first Holmes book-- The House of Silk-- was published in 2011 and internationally lauded as the top title of the autumn. The sequel, Moriarty, was published in October 2014 with similar success. Horowitz is known to younger fans as the writer of the Alex Rider series that has sold 19 million copies worldwide.
The 62-year old prolific British author's latest whodunit, The Word is Murder, opens with widowed socialite Diana Cowper, who makes arrangements for her own funeral, when the time comes. Her time comes just a few hours later. Cowper is found choked to death with a scarlet curtain cord in her home. Horowitz himself becomes a character when an ex-London cop named Hawthorne approaches Horowitz, the novelist, to chronicle how Hawthorne can crack the Cowper case and regain respectability.
Fired from his job at Scotland Yard for poor conduct, now Hawthorne wants Horowitz to turn his "real-life" cases into books, splitting the profits from the book 5o-50. Hawthorne seems to be straight out of central casting: aging loner who has problems with authority, smokes like a chimney, and is secretive, impatient, homophobic and tightfisted.
Metafiction is taken to a whole new level when Horowitz becomes his own narrator. The Word is Murder is the successor to last year’s Magpie Murders, a mash-up of an Agatha Christie-style whodunit-- a mystery-within-a-mystery-- a golden age styled detective novel within the story that peaks into the clubby world of British publishers, editors, and authors. It landed Horowitz on the New York Times best-seller lists.
The Word is Murder is a clever puzzle that gnaws at Horowitz even as he tells curmudgeon Hawthorne he has no interest in writing about true crime. Horowitz insists he’s a novelist and TV writer, a creator who revels in controlling his stories with the latitude fiction allows. So how does it play out? Horowitz is absolutely going to collaborate with the blunt-spoken Hawthorne-- a brilliant detective with an analytical mind like Holmes.
Describing Hawthorne, Horowitz writes: “He had the same silken quality as a panther or leopard, and there was a strange malevolence in his eyes – they were a soft brown – they seemed to challenge, even to threaten, me."
Horowitz takes the first person to the next level, explaining throughout the narration how he decided what details from this “real life” investigation to include and exclude in the novel. The facts of Horowitz’s life are true, but the famous actor Damian Cowper, whose mother is murdered in the first chapter of the novel, is fictional. Once more, Horowitz has skillfully placed one mystery inside another.
The book gives glimpses of the world of publishing, theatre and television. Deduction and wit are well-balanced. As in his previous works, Horowitz is adept at uncovering clues, relationships, puzzles and riddles and pulling the wool over people's eyes to reveal life in a way that will make the reader smile.
Horowitz says his editor at Random House is planning a batch of books in the series that gradually work out the mystery of Hawthorne’s past. As for Horowitz, he says, "We'll see." He's got plenty of other options.