The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz tells the story of a writer named Anthony Horowitz (yes that’s right the writer has put himself in his own book). Anthony is a successful writer who has made a living from popular detective teen fiction and English crime TV shows – sound familiar? He has just finished working on a new Sherlock Holmes book and is planning his next move for the TV show Foyle’s War. However Anthony is also wondering about his career. He feels too old to write books for teenagers, so is considering doing something a little more mature. At this point Detective Daniel Hawthorne re-enters his life. He has worked with Hawthorne before. He is an ex cop who was kicked off the force for unknown reasons. Anthony first met him on the set of a TV show he was working on where he was used as a consultant. Hawthorne has now contacted Anthony to write about a case he has been called into investigate. Hawthorne feels the case is interesting enough for a book to be written about it and he is also low on funds. The case is question? A wealthy woman who has been strangled to death the day she arranges her own funeral.
There are many things about this book which I like. One of which is its connection to Sherlock Holmes. Anthony has just finished writing about the great detective and for the last year has immersed himself in the 19th century and one of its most beloved characters. So its easy to see why the real Anthony would be interested in writing a modern Sherlock Holmes – hence Daniel Hawthorne’s character. A consultant for the police (as Sherlock often was) who can read people with just a look, but who is thoroughly annoying to be around. Then their is Anthony playing the modern Watson. A clever man who follows Sherlock around and tries to help but ends up looking like an idiot and needing to be rescued. Both Watson and Anthony are also the writers/narrators of the great detective as well. Then theirs its setting – London. While sat in the back of a cab Anthony moans how he would never write a book that showed all the different parts of London. However that is exactly what is happening and what also happens in many Sherlock Holmes books. Having this comparison to the great detective allows the reader to feel an early connected to the story and makes it more comfortable and enjoyable, as we realise the similarities and get to see the past repeating itself’s. This helps when we are later confronted by more troubling scenes, such as a small boys death and two horrific knife attacks.
What makes a good murder mystery?
This is a question I love to ask and one which many people will have different responses to. For me I love a murder mystery which is nostalgic, that doesn’t have too much blood or violence, the victim was really horrible and which is laid out as a puzzle to be solved. However what Anthony Horowitz states at the beginning is that all murder mystery’s must have a detective that the reader can enjoy (even if they don’t like them). He thinks about Poirot and Morse as examples. He then spends a vast majority of the book trying to find out as much about Hawthorne as he can. However when he finds out he is homophobic he almost decides not to write the book as very few people would read/approve of a book where the “hero” has such backwards views. But Daniel Hawthorne disagrees saying people don’t read books for the detective they read them for the murder. This makes it even more funny when he later suggests “Hawthorne investigates” as a title for the book (putting himself as the subject again). A very egotistical move that again shows the similarity between himself and Sherlock. However by the end of the book Anthony has agreed that the point of a murder mystery is not the detective but instead the act itself.
Do you agree? Can a mystery be just as good if it involves theft instead of death? Do you like your murder mystery to be dark and brooding like Frost or light and comical like Death in Paradise? Do we have to know everything about the detective in a story or is it best they also remain a mystery – as is the case here.
Reality Vs fantasy
This is a huge theme in the book and something which Anthony appears happy turn upside down and inside out.
At first Anthony (the character) tells us he decides to write about Hawthorne as he is challenged by a reader to write something that is true. This whole set up is amazing because …
1. Hawthorne is not real, nor are any of the events around him, so Anthony is not writing a real book, there fore the real reason for Anthony wanting to write this book is something else.
2. We later find out the set up for Anthony being pursued to write something real is a complete lie – which point out again the actual whole fantasy of the book.
Worrying he has lost contact with the REAL world Anthony agrees to write the book. But as soon as he does he immediately has problems with writing about the real life.
For instance when events or people he meets in story don’t satisfy his idea of what makes a good book (Hawthorne being homophobic being the big one) he contemplates rewriting them or even writing them out all together. Until he realizes he would be distorting the truth. The very thing he had challenged himself to do. However this is messed up itself as Hawthorne is in fact a made up character and Anthony could of decided to write him as likable and interesting. However he has chosen to write a character that distorts his norms and places everyone in an uncomfortable position.
Is he doing this in order to challenge himself personally – as he would have us believe? Or is he doing it because he is making a comment on the flaws of murder mystery’s? In this book Anthony suggests the latter might be the answer when he writes of an unpleasant scene he had had with a journalist over a political correctness questions (something which has happened to Anthony in real life many times) and how there was no answer he could give that was correct because he was always going to offend someone. So in Murder is the Word is he blatantly pointing out how the real world is messy and people will always be offended by it, so why cover it up?
In playing with reality Anthony is also making a point of how much of themselves a writer puts into their works. At university I loved reading classics after learning the life history of the author. I would see how the people and events around them had influenced them to write a distorted account of their real lives. For instance some people believe Jane Austin was writing about her true love when she wrote Pride and Prejudices – but giving the novel the happy ending she never got. Here Anthony takes that idea even further by putting “himself” into his own book. He uses a lot of real things about himself, his wife, children, home and job but then puts them into a fictional story line. This makes the novel feel more real and also gives the writer a chance to pass blatant comment on anything he wants – I love when he writes how he would never have chosen to write about a snotty actor as he was surrounded by them so often he found it a too obvious subject – however he has done exactly that here and is highlighting how others will pass comment on his choice of victim as a connection to his real life.
In fact the whole concept of Murder is the Word could be read a Anthony taking the mick out of his own work. For instance wen he goes to see the cleaner in a poor and violent area of London, he notices how this must be the “real” side of life the woman was asking for and what, in turn, he often ignores in his own more gentle writing, which is often set in the past or rural areas, so does not have to deal with the very modern problems of city life.
In writing this book Anthony is also making a point of can real life ever be captured in writing when so much editing is involved and the question of what the reader will find interesting and useful has to be considered. Anthony ponders these questions at the end of the book when he informs the reader he has not added certain scenes as they were boring or useless to the final solution. He also makes this point at the beginning with his argument with Hawthorne, who argued the details of a case being shown exactly as they are. Otherwise you are lying and misleading your readers. I especially like this as Anthony does give enough clues in his work for the reader to guess who the murderer is (which I only had an inkling of). However he is also very good at completely misleading the reader. In Murder is the Word Anthonys character (and myself) fall into a trap, which makes Anthony’s character feel stupid but in turn makes the foolish reader also feel closer to him (instead of mad at the actual Anthony who has obviously been misleading us) and realize how solving crime should be left to the professionals
Taking all the above into consideration Hawthornes character could be said to be the anti Anthony, by making him write about all the subjects he would never usually do. And by Anthony putting himself into the book he is allowing the story to act as an internal argument with himself over his writing style. All in all this could be the most personal book from a writer I’ve ever read.
What I didn’t like. (Spoliers)
My main problem with Murder is the word, was how similar it was to his previous novel “Magpie Murders”. In both books we have a child’s death, a narrator who works with books, the point made that murder mystery in real life are very different to books, an amateur detective, the same near death scene by the hands of the killer.
At times it was also just too violent and depressioning for me as well. The scene of the child being killed is reaped over and over again and yet to find it was not actually relevant to the case made me feel like Anthony had put it in for morbid pleasure. Also the near death scene was gripping but how the killer turn into a madman so quickly was just nuts and the whole set up was very unsettlering, espically as the reader had grown close to the character.
However, despite these points, I greatly enjoyed it and would highly recommend it
Please let me know what you think, Id especially love to hear your answers to my murder mystery questions