The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

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.


  1. Anthony Horowitz is one of the few modern crime writers that I really like. There are other modern crime writers that you review and highly recommend but I find it a chore to go through them.
    I have placed an order for the paperback edition since strangely it is much cheaper than the kindle edition here !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, that might be because Horowitz produces books that are deliberately structured, at heart, as classic fairly clued mysteries. A lot of other modern authors that I’ve enjoyed fall down at the fair clue-ing aspect.


    • For once I feel up-to-date because I pre-ordered the novel on my Kindle, and was encouraged to read it after scanning your review. Now that I’ve (just) finished it I can read your review more carefully. Bouncing off Santosh’s comment earlier, I think the closest thing to this novel, as far as the other modern titles you have recommended are concerned, would be Thorogood’s ‘Death in Paradise’ novels. Not in terms of the meta-narrativity, but in terms of what the plot, at its heart, wants to achieve.

      I confess I didn’t fully enjoy the meta-narrativity, but I was impressed by what I thought was the central clue and twist. And I’m quite curious as to what you meant by the ‘one stunning incident at the halfway point that [you were] really impressed by’…


  2. The last sentence of chapter 3 (titled Chapter One) reads:
    “But be assured that the rest of it, including a clue which would indicate, quite clearly, the identity of the killer, is spot on.”
    Which clue is he referring to ?


  3. I just finished this yesterday. It is really excellent. Quite a page turner.
    Magpie is much more complex in structure, but I found it easy to solve (twice). This one is very straightforward but I missed the solution completely.
    It’s slyly funny too, playing a bit with stereotypes of the Golden Age, such having “the detective parade his eccentricities”, which Horowitz complains he cannot do. (The quotation is from Christie.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a very good book. I didn’t think the murderer was as obvious as the Puzzle Doctor did, but I did suspect it might be this person although I didn’t see any “smoking gun” pointing to them. I have to give major credit to Horowitz as far as the clues go. What annoys me about some modern mysteries is that there might only be one or two clues pointing to a particular suspect. Here there are several, and when Horowitz’ Hawthorne explains them, you feel like an idiot for missing them.

    Two quick things. How many more books does Horowitz have to sell before his books are sold simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic? Second, although I thought his incarnation of The Doctor wasn’t quite right because he didn’t seem smart enough, I think the role of the brilliant Hawthorne is tailor-made for Christopher Eccleston.

    Liked by 1 person

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