Diana Cowper walked into the funeral parlour to arrange her own burial – everything was planned down to the last detail. An environmentally-friendly burial, a not-particularly-religious service. And it turns out that the plan was necessary – because six hours after leaving the appointment, Diana Cowper was murdered.
Hawthorne, an ex-police detective and currently an investigating consultant, is asked to look into the case, but he sees an additional opportunity. Why not have the investigation chronicled by an author? An author who Hawthorne has been advising on procedure for the author’s latest TV show. You may have heard of that author – his name is Anthony Horowitz…
OK, and I thought Magpie Murders was hard to review without spoiling too much. In fact, the simple existence of Magpie Murders actually makes this review harder.
Ignoring that book for a moment, what you have here is exactly the sort of book that this blog was created to try and find. Yes, we’ve meandered away from that notion over the years – well, I meandered and a lot of you followed me – but the core idea was to find classic crime fiction being published today. And this is right up there with the best.
A central intriguing idea, engaging characters, a multi-layered fairly clued mystery – and the sign of a great mystery novel, there are revelations about events that are not central to the tale that are also fairly clued – and an entertaining narrative voice. Horowitz the narrator is not shy of chatting about relevant aspects of his work – the book is set after the supposed end of Foyle’s War, i.e. before the Cold War episodes – or, indeed, name-dropping or plugging his other books. Of course, this is exactly what an author would do – but whether you choose to think this is Horowitz embodying what an author would do, or just plugging his other books is up to you. But it’s all good fun.
What it isn’t is what readers of Magpie Murders might expect – namely a piece of meta-fiction playing fast and loose with the notion of an author telling a story of a story that he was involved in. There are some nods – the Acknowledgements section is littered with fictional bits and bobs as well as, presumably, real ones – but this is actually a surprisingly straightforward twisty turny classic-style mystery.
Horowitz again demonstrates his ability to weave a complex and fair-play mystery plot – I wonder, if he had been asked to do the new Poirot books, would there have been such an uproar? – and the book bounces along nicely, with one stunning incident at the halfway point that I was really impressed by. Admittedly, I thought the “who” was a bit too obvious, but not the “why”, even though everything is there in plain sight to be overlooked by the reader.
The Word Is Murder is released in the UK by Penguin Random House UK or Cornerstone or possibly Arrow Publishing – I can’t get the hang of these imprints within imprints in publishing. Anyway, it’ll be in bookshops from Thursday 24th August. Why not go out and get it, because it’s Highly Recommended.