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Book review: The Word is Murder

Alan Montague enjoys Anthony Horowitz's latest novel — which features a character called Anthony Horowitz

    Anthony Horowitz: real or fictional?
    Anthony Horowitz: real or fictional? Photo: Getty Images/AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau

    Clever Anthony Horowitz. He has managed to bring something fresh to the old thriller format by simply inserting himself into the story.

    Or at least, by creating a character who is a successful writer called Anthony Horowitz — and who has the same CV as the real-life Horowitz.

    The Anthony Horowitz in the book, The Word is Murder (Century £20 is approached by a former police officer called Daniel Hawthorne to chronicle his attempts to solve a baffling murder. It’ll be a best-seller, Hawthorne assures him.

    Having left the force under a cloud, Hawthorne has set himself up as a consulting detective, called in by Scotland Yard whenever the CID are stumped.

    Horowitz is initially reluctant — he (like his author) has just finished his Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk, and is working on what promises to be a highly profitable sequel. But the prospect of witnessing a murder investigation at first hand proves irresistible.

    The references to The House of Silk are, of course, a huge clue. Horowitz is a kind of Watson to Hawthorne’s almost-Holmes and together they criss-cross London on the trail of the killer — by Tube rather than hansom cab — with Horowitz taking notes along the way.

    And all the time, because Horowitz is the character, you have to keep pinching yourself not to believe this is autobiography as well as crime fiction.

    There is a quite breathtaking scene half-way into the book where Horowitz is in a meeting with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, the two most famous film directors in the world, discussing script revisions for a sequel to Spielberg’s movie Tintin.

    This could easily be a chapter in a showbiz memoir entitled “My big Hollywood break” but then, in a dramatic twist, the murder investigation intrudes.

    For one head-spinning moment, the two worlds collide and it is not entirely clear what is possibly real and what is definitely fictional.

    As for the mystery itself, Horowitz — the highly experienced writer that he is — certainly what he is doing and all the right elements are there.

    A wealthy Chelsea matron walks into a London undertakers to make arrangements for her own funeral. Hours later, she is found strangled.

    Hawthorne, with Horowitz in tow, sets about questioning suspects, travelling across the capital from Harrow on the Hill to Brick Lane — lots of good atmospheric London detail here. Clues and misdirection are sprinkled expertly along the way, and the final twist is satisfying, although more attentive readers might see it coming.

    Horowitz makes Hawthorne not completely sympathetic — as well as being a brilliant detective, he is a tight-fisted, manipulative homophobe. Holmes had his issues, it’s true — the cocaine, the occasional lack of consideration towards Watson, all that scraping on the violin — but he was the great Sherlock Holmes.

    Hawthorne is not; his faults are less excusable.

    It’s a point, in fairness, Horowitz himself makes as he threatens to abandon the writing project in protest more than once. Somehow, that only makes it seem all the more real.

    As I said: clever Anthony Horowitz.

     

    Alan Montague is the JC’s news editor

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