Gosh this book is strange. I’m still not sure whether it’s good-strange or bad-strange, but I managed to enjoy it an awful lot despite its inherent weirdness.
What makes it so odd is that Horowitz inserts himself slap-bang into the middle of events as a walking, talking self-insert. He doesn’t do anything so dreadfully generic as invent a fictional sidekick for his protagonist, oh no. Horowitz literally writes himself into the book. (As a writer, writing a book.) The mind boggles.
Lines are strongly blurred between fiction and reality. Although the criminal element of the book is clearly an invention (and a good one, at that! A woman visits a funeral parlour to arrange her own funeral, and later that day is murdered. What a great hook), there’s also a lot drawn from Horowitz’s real life – his family, his body of work, a whole chapter where he pals around with Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson planning the Tintin sequel. At one point I even wondered if the book was written to explain his removal from the project – ‘look world, I couldn’t possibly have worked on Tintin 2 when I was busy solving a murder!’
But, weirdness set as far aside as it’s possible to set it – The Word is Murder is a great crime novel. As the plot developed, I found myself so engaged that I was annotating the text to flag up clues and links, and feeling mightily pleased with myself in the process. Which made it all the more infuriating when Horowitz began making teasing pronouncements about the solution along the lines of: “it had been there all along, in front of our eyes […] In fact it was obvious.” Happily, he is outsmarted (in his own book? Did I mention that this concept is so weird?).
The protagonist here is former detective Daniel Hawthorne. Despite his Sherlockian brilliance at reading crime scenes and people, he’s unlikable, and such a closed book that we learn almost nothing about him until the final chapter. In perhaps the strangest section of the novel, Horowitz-the-author reveals Hawthorne to be homophobic. Horowitz-the-character then struggles with whether to omit this from his book or not, and honestly I’m not entirely certain what the point of it all was.
I thoroughly enjoyed the plot of The Word is Murder, and especially loved that all wrongdoing ultimately hinged on a missing cat named Mr. Tibbs. More crime novels should revolve around missing cats. However, more crime novels definitely should not borrow this self-insertion concept, and I truly hope it doesn’t become the next big craze.
[Read from 23-25 July 2017]