Goofy, spoofy, – and (sometimes) truthy, but sometimes…..not
Anthony Horowitz is a wonderfully tricksy, playful and mischievous writer. A very clever one, too. I have to admit that some writers who play tricksy, clever games on their readers can feel tiresome, especially if the reader senses this comes out of a feeling of over-intellectualised self-congratulation. It is very different when the writer encourages the reader to enjoy the game, as Horowitz assuredly does…….rather like an audience who come to watch a stage magician. We want to discover the ‘trick’ but, at a deeper level, hope we won’t.
Horowitz’s trick (well, one of them) in this dazzle of a crime investigation book ‘ Murder Is The Word’ is that he is actively involved in investigating the murder, in this book, in the guise of being a kind of ghost-author for Daniel Hawthorne, ex policeman now private investigator. The whole book comes as Hawthorne’s suggestion/commission. Hawthorne first met Horowitz when employed as a series advisor on the TV adaptation of Foyle’s War, which Horowitz wrote the screenplays for. Hawthorne has been kept as a kind of consultant by the police force, and gets called in to assist investigations when the murder investigation team are making no headway. As is the case here, in this account, which Horowitz, initially unwillingly, takes on, becoming a kind of Watson to Hawthorne’s maverick but Sherlockianly astute investigation.
Diana Cowper, a perfectly healthy, not to mention wealthy, late middle aged woman made funeral arrangements for herself – an increasingly popular practice – with an impeccable firm of undertakers. However, later that same day she is found murdered at her home.
Interspersed with Horowitz’s account of the tortuous, wriggly, herring filled solving of this crime, Horowitz includes a lot of material from his own personal and professional history.
The reader would not have had half as much pleasure reading this book had it been written in a pre-internet, pre-Google search world. Indeed, it is unlikely Horowitz could or would have written such a book, Part of the lure and addiction of reading this is the constant desire to check facts, dates, people, places…..is this real?….a real event…..or is it invention?
Every time I checked something and it proved to be a ‘real Horowitz event’, I chortled appreciatively, and every time interest led me to look up something which turned out to be ‘invented Horowitz’, or at least slight-bending-of-the-truth-Horowitz I chortled with even more delight. Real luminaries stalk these pages, but entering into some real-ish situations are Horowitz characters a playing. Some other reviewers have mentioned the best of these, but I am staying mum, for your readerly delight – I’m sure that a particular encounter with luminaries will be a better high spot for not being revealed.
‘The Word Is Murder’ is not a book which Horowitz wrote without certain, difficult challenges to face. As he explains, comparing the writing of ‘The House of Silk’ his magnificent homage to, and ‘as if’ written by, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle :
It struck me from the very start that my job was to be invisible. I tried to hide myself in Doyle’s shadow, to imitate his literary tropes and mannerisms but never, as it were, to intrude. I wrote nothing that he might not have written himself. I mention this only because it worries me to be so very prominent in these pages. But this time round I have no choice; I’m writing exactly what happened
And here, Horowitz as Watson (so, still flirting with those tropes) is having to record the investigations which Hawthorne is intent on – not to mention, at times, a little sneaky investigation by Horowitz into the secretive, shadowy ex cop himself. Poor Horowitz also struggles to be allowed the task of writing this book, in his style. Hawthorne may be a brilliant, left-field investigator, but he is no writer, though he shows himself something of a control freak, fighting every attempt Horowitz makes to inject style and atmosphere into the telling of the story. Hawthorne would prefer Plod-the-Policeman dialogue, all ‘I was proceeding in a south-westerly direction’. Horowitz, understandably, wants to give the facts of the investigation and keep our interest going, and the reader, awake
If I had sat down to write an original murder mystery story I wouldn’t have chosen anyone like Hawthorne as its main protagonist. I think the world has had quite enough of white, middle-aged, grumpy detectives and I’d have tried to think up something more unusual
In case, by focusing on the meta-fiction aspects, I have put off any potential readers who just want a credible, difficult, sometimes gory murder investigation, sometimes spiced with real danger, twists and satisfying herrings aplenty, and an utterly credible denouement, expertly written by someone who utterly respects the genre, and is, moreover well versed in its history – rest assured Horowitz is, fabulously, that writer. Not to mention the fact that Hawthorne, despite, or perhaps, because of, his grumpy, secretive brilliance, is the investigator the reader is keen to be spending further time with.
I sincerely hope that Hawthorne, finding a well deserved fan base for his criminal investigations, will decide to stick with Horowitz as his ‘Watson’ and that he does not decide to either go it alone and write his own books, or approach some other writer to record any future investigations he may be called on to solve.
Please, if you read this, Mr Hawthorne, let us have many more of your cases, but do stick with Anthony Horowitz as your ‘recorder’
I was delighted to receive this as a review copy. As should be obvious, highly, highly recommended