Saturday, January 19, 2019

Anthony Horowitz, The Word Is Murder

Anthony Horowitz, The Word Is Murder
Arrow Books, 2018
(Originally published by Penguin Random House, 2017)
© Anthony Horowitz 2017

ISBN 978-1-78-475723-6

Anthony Horowitz is a prolific author of mystery and suspense tales, in book form and as television scripts (e.g., Foyle’s War; Midsomer Murders); what I have previously read of his work (House of Silk; Moriarty) has been a pleasure to read.[1]  The Word Is Murder is not a pastiche, nor set in the somewhat distant past; it is contemporary, and set in 21st century England, and particularly the higher-end parts of London.

I enjoyed the book a lot, but there is one (to me) dominant aspect of It I had a great deal of trouble with, so let me get that out of the way first.  The author is, obviously, Anthony Horowitz, a prominent and prolific English author.  Not a problem.  But the narrator, and a prominent character in the unfolding of the story, is also a prominent and prolific English author, named “Anthony Horowitz.”  And his—“Horowitz’s” –list of publications is, in fact, the same as that of the author.  Yet the book is plainly a work of fiction (despite the appearance of characters like the movie producers and directors, Peter Jackson and Stephen Spielberg).  I found this somewhat difficult.  How are we to treat this approach?  Do we have a figurative set of characters on parole from the real world?  Are we supposed to infer that this is, in some way not a work of fiction?  Perhaps this troubled me more than it should have, but it made getting into the book harder for me than it perhaps needed to be.

The story, briefly, is this.  A 60-ish, upper-middle-to-upper class English woman, Diana Cowper, resigns from the Board of a theater company and, on her way home, stops at a funeral hope to make arrangements, is great detail, including a very minimalist type of casket, the music to be played, a psalm and a poem to be read.  She appears to be in good health, her son (Damian) has a thriving career as an actor, but, as the funeral director, Robert Cornwallis, assures her, many people make such plans.  She then goes home.

And is murdered, strangled.  Her body is not found until 2 days leader, when her cleaning lady/housekeeper comes to work.  The police arrive and do their standard normal job of investigating the crime scene.  The next day (as clearly as I can tell, writer “Anthony Horowitz” receives a phone call from an ex-Detective Inspector, Daniel Hawthorne; Hawthorne, who quit the force largely because his approach clashed with the institutional approach and who now works as a consultant on especially difficult cases, wants to speak with him.  Nor specifically about the case in hand, but because he wants “Horowitz” to write a book about Hawthorne’s just-beginning investigation of Cowper’s murder, with the proceeds to be shared equally.

After some discussion/argument, “Horowitz” agrees to tackle it, and he becomes Hawthorne’s shadow as the investigation proceeds.  One of the first revelations is that Cowper has had a (10-year-old) encounter with the British justice system.  She was charged with what in the US would be called reckless vehicular homicide in the death of an 8 year-old boy, and the grievous bodily harm done to his twin brother.  So the first, and obvious approach, is to see whether that has played a role in Cowper’s death/

As the investigation continues, there’s a great deal of tension between Hawthorne and “Horowitz,” based in part on Hawthorne’s desire to reveal nothing of himself and to explain as little as possible how he is structuring the investigation, and “Horowitz’s” desire to understand both the forces that drive Hawthorne and the logic behind his investigation. 

Cowper’s son (Damian) returns from LA for the funeral—at which there is an extraordinary interruption to the service, leading him to leave the cemetery.  This, and a related event, cause Hawthorne to explore his background as a student at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and as an actor, to see whether anything there is relevant to his mother’s death.

As is perhaps typical in an actual investigation, Hawthorne discovers things in the lives of a lot of people, (including the parents of the two boys who were victims in the auto accident—and the nanny who was caring for the boys; the judge who decided that Cowpers’ actions in the accident did not warrant jail time; the actress whose career has been interrupted by having borne Damian’s son; the other students at RADA) which may or may not be relevant.  And, as this is a work of fiction, both Hawthorne and “Horowitz” find their ways to the solution.

We can, apparently, expect additional books in the series.  Notwithstanding the problem I pointed out (and a problem that might be of concern only to me), I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops.

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