Book review: The Word is Murder

The Word is Murder

The Word is Murder

(Hawthorne #1)

by  Anthony Horowitz

Genre: Mystery & Detective
Pages: 390

Author’s website


It’s hard to believe: I have already read and thoroughly enjoyed five books by Anthony Horowitz, and only talked to you about The House of Silk, on this video. This summer was totally crazy, so this could partly explain why I recently read two other mysteries by him and did not write about my experience. I actually wonder if a deeper reason could be that I was so stunned by the quality of the book that I didn’t know how to start reviewing it. I’m still very much aware my two-cents sound very poor to give you an idea of the greatness of The Word is Murder, but let’s try anyway. 

Let’s back up a bit if you don’t mind.

Horowitz was I believe the first author to be allowed to officially write new stories with Sherlock Holmes. And he is a master at it! He proved it with The House of Silk and volume 2: Moriarty. The latter is a bit darker, which makes sense due to the main character, but it is done so brilliantly. I was stunned when I realized what the author was doing. He has some genius ideas as far as narrative techniques are concerned and he totally fools the reader!

Then he tried his pastiche technique on Agatha Christie, with Magpie Murders (NOT: The Magpie Murders, very important detail!). A book within a book, a mystery within a mystery, well done!

Horowitz also did it with James Bond in Trigger Mortis, but I don’t know enough the original character, so I decided not to read it.

And today, I’m presenting The Word is Murder, where you will find obvious and hidden references to so many classical mysteries! It’s actually the beginning of a new series, the 2nd volume will come out in the US next November.

So, what’s so great about this book?

The novel starts with a death: Diana Cowper, in her 60s, went into a funeral parlor to arrange her funeral. And she was murdered by strangulation about six hours later that same day!

To begin with, the police assumed that Diana Cowper had been the victim of a burglary. She was rich and the mother of a famous actor.

The author then integrates himself in the story, in a very clever way, mentioning elements of his life known to the public, like the publication of The House of Silk, the Alex Rider series, and his work for TV (Foyle’s War, among others). And lots of other elements, in such a way that the reader never really knows what’s true or not.

These days, autofiction is often used by French authors, and I usually hate it: for me, either you write an autobiography or a novel, but you don’t mix the two genres. But here, this smart writing device totally fits within the mystery genre, and adds even more to the suspense.

Hawthorne enters the scene. He is a former policeman now consultant/detective and he asks the author/narrator to write about him, with a fifty-fifty deal.

The narrator/author tries to refuse, arguing he just writes fiction – and here we go again into deliciously confusing the reader…

This self-reference has also some neat connections with Watson, adding another extra layer of meta-literature; especially as Hawthorne is described as an “an odd, complicated but genuinely brilliant detective”.

Plus the idea of a book within the book leads always to intricate and enjoyable levels.

In the process, we are given lots of interesting tidbits about the art of writing and the life of an author. And reflection on the choice between fiction or nonfiction, with this book at the nexus of the option.

Titles have to be short, smart and meaningful, easy to read, easy to remember and original. That’s asking a lot.

Hawthorne is working on Diana’s case, and asks the narrator to follow him to write his book on him. Finally, the author accepts.

Then the investigation goes on, with both the detective and the author mixing their respective roles and responsibilities.

At the end of chapter three, as both discuss Chapter 1 of the book on Hawthorne, they refer to the fact that it includes “a clue which would indicate, quite clearly, the identity of the killer.” I was intrigued, as a reader. So I decided to reread the chapter very attentively, and yes, I did find the clue and the identity of the killer!
Of course, as I kept reading the book, there were many occasions to doubt my intuitions, so my pleasure of reading the book was never spoiled. It was an interesting experience, to know that if I read and reread a text attentively, I may be able to identify the culprit. We’ll see if I can apply tot other thrillers!

Plus I never managed to guess the why!

Note that on the publisher’s website, Horowitz manages to sum up his book in one minute!

Before writing for adults, Horowitz was actually very famous for his series for YA, especially with his young hero Alex Rider. Curious, I checked out the first book at my library. Again, it was so very well done! I plan to read more of that series, even though YA is usually not my cup of tea.

VERDICT: Brilliant take on the whodunit formula, where the author is himself a character of the book. Or is he?

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What’s your favorite book by Horowitz?

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In full compliance with FTC Guidelines,
I received this ebook for free from the publisher through Edelweiss.
I was in no way compensated for this post as a reviewer, and the thoughts are my own.



12 thoughts on “Book review: The Word is Murder

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