The Word is Murder (Horowitz)

The Word Is Murder 
Anthony Horowitz, 2018
400 pp.

She planned her own funeral, but did she arrange her own murder?

New York Times bestselling author of Magpie Murders and Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz has yet again brilliantly reinvented the classic crime novel, this time writing a fictional version of himself as the Watson to a modern-day Holmes.

One bright spring morning in London, Diana Cowper—the wealthy mother of a famous actor—enters a funeral parlor. She is there to plan her own service.

Six hours later she is found dead, strangled with a curtain cord in her own home.

Enter disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne, a brilliant, eccentric investigator who’s as quick with an insult as he is to crack a case. Hawthorne needs a ghost writer to document his life; a Watson to his Holmes. He chooses Anthony Horowitz.

Drawn in against his will, Horowitz soon finds himself a the center of a story he cannot control. Hawthorne is brusque, temperamental and annoying but even so his latest case with its many twists and turns proves irresistible. The writer and the detective form an unusual partnership.

At the same time, it soon becomes clear that Hawthorne is hiding some dark secrets of his own.

A masterful and tricky mystery that springs many surprises, The Word is Murder is Anthony Horowitz at his very best. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—April 5, 1955
Where—Stanmore, Middlesex, UK
Education—University of York
Awards—Lancashire Children's Book of the Year Award
Currently—lives in London, England

Anthony Horowitz, OBE is a prolific English novelist and screenwriter specialising in mystery and suspense. His work for children and teenagers includes The Diamond Brothers series, the Alex Rider series, and The Power of Five series (aka The Gatekeepers). His work for adults includes the novel and play Mindgame (2001) and two Sherlock Holmes novels, The House of Silk (2011) and Moriarty (2014). He has also written extensively for television, contributing numerous scripts to ITV's Agatha Christie's Poirot and Midsomer Murders. He was the creator and principal writer of the three ITV series—Foyle's War, Collision and Injustice.

Personal life
Horowitz was born in Stanmore, Middlesex, into a wealthy Jewish family, and in his early years lived an upper-middle class lifestyle. As an overweight and unhappy child, Horowitz enjoyed reading books from his father's library. At the age of eight, Horowitz was sent to the boarding school Orley Farm in Harrow, Middlesex. There, he entertained his peers by telling them the stories he had read. Overall, however, Horowitz described his time in the school as "a brutal experience," recalling that he was often beaten by the headmaster. At age 13 he went on to Rugby School and discovered a love for writing.

Horowitz adored his mother, who introduced him to Frankenstein and Dracula. She also gave him a human skull for his 13th birthday. Horowitz said in an interview that it reminds him to get to the end of each story since he will soon look like the skull. From the age of eight, he knew he wanted to be a writer, realizing "the only time when I'm totally happy is when I'm writing."  He graduated from the University of York with a lower second class degree in English literature and art history in 1977.

Horowitz's father was associated with some of the politicians in the "circle" of prime minister Harold Wilson, including Eric Miller. Facing bankruptcy, he moved his assets into Swiss numbered bank accounts. He died from cancer when his son Anthony was 22, and the family was never able to track down the missing money despite years of trying.

Horowitz now lives in Central London with his wife Jill Green. They have two sons whom he credits with much of his success in writing. They help him, he says, with ideas and research. He is a patron of child protection charity Kidscape.

Early writing
Horowitz published his first children's book, The Sinister Secret of Frederick K Bower in 1979 and, in 1981, a second, Misha, the Magician and the Mysterious Amulet. In 1983 he released the first of the Pentagram series, The Devil's Door-Bell, which was followed by three more in the series until the final in 1986.

In between his novels, Horowitz worked with Richard Carpenter on the Robin of Sherwood television series, writing five episodes of the third season. He also novelized three of Carpenter's episodes as a children's book under the title Robin Sherwood: The Hooded Man (1986). In addition, he created Crossbow (1987), a half-hour action adventure series loosely based on William Tell.

Starting in 1988, Horowitz published two Groosham Grange novels, partially based on his boarding school years. The first won the 1989 Lancashire Children's Book of the Year Award.

The major release in his early career was The Falcon's Malteser (1986), which became the first in the eight-book Diamond Brothers series. The book was filmed for television in 1989 as Just Ask for Diamond. The series' final installment was issued in 2008.

Midcareer writing
Horowitz wrote numerous stand alone novels in the 1990s, but in 2000 he began the Alex Rider novels—about a 14-year-old boy becoming a spy for the British Secret Service branch MI6. The series is comprised of nine books (a tenth is connected but not part of it) with the final installment released in 2011.

Another series, The Power of Five (The Gatekeepers in the U.S.) began in 2005 with Raven's Gate—"Alex Rider with witches and devils," Horowitz called it. Five books in all were published by 2012

Horowitz also turned to playwrighting with Mindgame, which opened Off Broadway in 2009 at the Soho Playhouse in New York City. The production starred Keith Carradine, Lee Godart, and Kathleen McNenny; it was the New York stage directorial debut for Ken Russell

The estate of Arthur Conan Doyle selected Horowitz as the writer of a new Sherlock Holmes novel, the first such effort to receive an official endorsement. The resulting book, The House of Silk, came out in 2011, followed by Moriarty in 2014.

Horowitz was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to literature.

TV and film
Horowitz's association with televised murder mysteries began with the adaptation of several Hercule Poirot stories for ITV's popular Agatha Christie's Poirot series during the 1990s.

Starting in 1997, he wrote the majority of the episodes in the early series of Midsomer Murders. In 2001, he created a drama anthology series of his own for the BBC, Murder in Mind, an occasional series which deals with a different set of characters and a different murder every one-hour episode.

He is also less-favourably known for the creation of two short-lived and sometimes derided science-fiction shows, Crime Traveller (1997) for BBC One and The Vanishing Man (pilot 1996, series 1998) for ITV.  The successful 2002 launch of the detective series Foyle's War, set during the Second World War, helped to restore his reputation as one of Britain's foremost writers of popular drama.

He devised the 2009 ITV crime drama Collision and co-wrote the screenplay with Michael A. Walker. Horowitz is the writer of a feature film screenplay, The Gathering, released in 2003 and starring Christina Ricci. He wrote the screenplay for Alex Rider's first major motion picture, Stormbreaker. (From Wikipedia. Retrieved 12/1/2014.)

Book Reviews
[T]he beguiling whodunit plot is dispatched with characteristic elan as Horowitz blurs the line between fiction and reality.… [T]here is no denying the sheer ingenuity of the central notion.
Financial Times (UK)

(Starred review) [A] scrupulously fair whodunit, features a fictionalized version of himself.… Deduction and wit are well-balanced, and fans of Peter Lovesey and other modern channelers of the spirit of the golden age of detection will clamor for more.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) Actually, the word is not murder, it’s ingenious....a masterful meta-mystery.

(Starred review) [A] fiendishly clever puzzle…. Though the impatient, tightfisted, homophobic lead detective is impossible to love, the mind-boggling plot triumphs over its characters.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available. In the meantime, use our generic mystery questions to help start a discussion for THE WORD IS MURDER … then take off on your own:

Mystery / Crime / Suspense Thrillers


1. Talk about the characters, both good and bad. Describe their personalities and motivations. Are they fully developed and emotionally complex? Or are they flat, one-dimensional heroes and villains?

2. What do you know...and when do you know it? At what point in the book do you begin to piece together what happened?

3. Good crime writers embed hidden clues in plain sight, slipping them in casually, almost in passing. Did you pick them out, or were you...clueless? Once you've finished the book, go back to locate the clues hidden in plain sight. How skillful was the author in burying them?

4. Good crime writers also tease us with red-herrings—false clues—to purposely lead readers astray? Does your author try to throw you off track? If so, were you tripped up?

5. Talk about the twists & turns—those surprising plot developments that throw everything you think you've figured out into disarray.

  1. Do they enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?
  2. Are they plausible or implausible?
  3. Do they feel forced and gratuitous—inserted merely to extend the story?

6. Does the author ratchet up the suspense? Did you find yourself anxious—quickly turning pages to learn what happened? A what point does the suspense start to build? Where does it climax...then perhaps start rising again?

7. A good ending is essential in any mystery or crime thriller: it should ease up on tension, answer questions, and tidy up loose ends. Does the ending accomplish those goals?

  1. Is the conclusion probable or believable?
  2. Is it organic, growing out of clues previously laid out by the author (see Question 3)?
  3. Or does the ending come out of the blue, feeling forced or tacked-on?
  4. Perhaps it's too predictable.
  5. Can you envision a different or better ending?

8. Are there certain passages in the book—ideas, descriptions, or dialogue—that you found interesting or revealing...or that somehow struck you? What lines, if any, made you stop and think?

9. Overall, does the book satisfy? Does it live up to the standards of a good crime story or suspense thriller? Why or why not?

(Generic Mystery Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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